by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashios Vayikra(69)This week we begin the third book of the Torah with parashas Vayikra. The Book of Leviticus (Vayikra) is known as Toras Kohanim, because it focuses in the laws of the sacrifices and the priests. This week's sedra begins with laws of several of the sacrifices.
"Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When a person (adam) will bring an offering from among you to Hashem, from the animals - from the cattle, and from the sheep shall you bring your offering."
A person ("adam"): Rashi: Why does it say this? [To teach us] Just like Adam, the first man, did not bring offerings from stolen [animals] since everything [in the world] belonged to him, likewise, you shall not offer from stolen animals.
I found this comment a bit strange. When I investigated further, I found that there are two other midrashim on this section teaching us the same thing.
1) from among you: (Is read as: "From you") Midrash: Excepting a stolen [animal] which is not from you. (Sucah 30a)
2) If a Burnt-offering is his sacrifice: Midrash: (Is his) But not a stolen one (Baba Kama 66b).
It is kind of strange that there are three midrashic teachings for the same - quite obvious - teaching, within two verses. It is obvious, because such behavior is explicitly prohibited by our Prophets.
Isaiah (61:8) "For I am Hashem Who loves justice and hates a burnt offering [brought] with robbery; and I will repay their deeds in truth and I will seal an eternal covenant with them. "
Malachi (1:13) also rails against such hypocrisy. "You bring the stolen and the lame and the sick [animals]…would I accept that from your hand?! says Hashem."
These are obviously vile ways to serve G-d. The Sages called this: "A mitzvah that come by means of a sin."
So, why the need to hammer it home over and over again?
We must look for the reason. No upright person who desires to bring a sacrifice would act so hypocritically.
Can you explain it?
UNDERSTANDING RASH & THE MIDRASHIM
A Suggested Answer: The Rashi-comment before this Rashi-comment said that this offering is a Free Will offering. Meaning, not one that the person is obligated to bring; he did it voluntarily.
WHAT IS WRONG?
Now let us imagine the following scenario. A person takes money off the table which belongs to someone else, to give to tzadakah. The guy yells in protest: "Hey that's my money!" and the thief says: "Don't worry I'll pay you back!" And he does pay him back. But the guy still protests: "but I want my money."
Now the person gave the money for a worthy cause, voluntarily. If he didn't take the money now he might not have given it at all. Eventually he will pay the other guy back. Charity benefited and in the end, no one really lost. Can there be anything wrong with that?
What do think and why do think so?
You might know that there is an exclusive Jewish country club in Palms Beach Florida; where the initial membership fee is a mere $350,000. One of the conditions for membership in this exclusive Jewish country club is that members give a minimum of $350,000 to charity each year. Many members give several times that amount each year. One member ripped off people for some 65 billion dollars (I don't know how to write that in numbers!). But he gave a lot of charity. Without his brilliant rip-off schemes he might never have been able to be so charitable. So what do you say?
He did a mitzvah, no?
UNDERSTANDING THE IDEA
Notice that the quote from Isaiah (61:8) as well as the second midrash, we quoted both spoke of burnt-offerings. A burnt -offering is one that goes totally to G-d; man does not benefit from it, as he might from other types of sacrifices. So it is, in a sense, a pure offering. It is just these kinds of "wholehearted" sacrifices that lead people to take liberties with other people's money "for a higher good" that they would never think of doing in ordinary circumstances. It is just such kinds of charity that G-d suspects man might rationalize about, since he is working, after all, "for a good cause."
The midrash gives a parable (mashal) for us to understand G-d's command in this issue of "a mitzvah that comes by means of a sin." The parable: The king passes a toll bridge and tells his driver to pay the toll. The driver is surprised and asked the king: "Your Majesty, all the tolls go to you, in any event, so why must you, yourself, pay?"
The king answers: "Yes, but I want my subjects to learn from my example, that everyone must pay the taxes." So too we can say, a good deed done through bad means is a slippery slope. One "good deed" based on rationalizing can lead more rationalizing; and more of such rationalizing can lead to more of those "good deeds" which exploit others.
What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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