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Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the website.  We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given.  For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website.  If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the website.

Afraid? Good!

In the process of the Tabernacle's inaugural, the Torah describes an interesting scene: The time had arrived for the newly appointed high priest, Aaron, to bring his first offering to G‑d -- but he stood on the side, reluctant to assume his duties.

His brother, Moses, came over to him and said: "Aaron! Why are you fearful? L'kach nivcharta -- you were chosen for this!"

The holy Baal Shem Tov, founder of the chassidic movement, took these two words, "l'kach nivcharta," and shined a deeper light into them:

It was at that moment, when Moses saw his brother Aaron's hesitation to accept the highest position, that he finally understood why his brother was chosen. L'kach nivcharta -- it is for this – i.e., because of your humility and fear of heaven – that you were chosen. It was precisely because Aaron did not seek power or prestige that he was chosen to be high priest.

Now try telling that to our wannabee politicians… "I'm the best for the job!" "My experience demonstrates that I can tackle any issue!" "You can have 100% confidence in my ability to weather any storm…" Where's the realization of – and hence apprehension in the face of – the responsibility that leadership requires?

Isn't it ironic that while we are bombarded by speech after speech from self-idolizing hopefuls, polls show that 75% of Americans believe that there is a glaring lack of leadership in our country?

Rabbi Sholom DovBer, the fifth rebbe in the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, once advised one of his chassidim to become a shochet (ritual slaughterer). The chassid was reluctant: "But Rebbe, I'm afraid! It's a huge responsibility!" (Due to the immense responsibility involved, the job of shochet is traditionally reserved for individuals of outstanding piety and integrity.)

The Rebbe smiled, and said: "Who then should I appoint as a shochet? Someone who is not afraid?"

Of course one must have the skills to execute the tasks that leadership demands, but humility and sterling character constitute the meat of the soup.

The world would be a much better place if the politico wannabees took this lesson to heart, don't you think?


Understanding Sacrifice

One of the most difficult elements of the Torah and the way of life it prescribes is the phenomenon of animal sacrifices -- for obvious reasons. First, Jews and Judaism have survived without them for almost two thousand years. Second, virtually all the prophets were critical of them, not least Jeremiah in this week’s haftarah. None of the prophets sought to abolish sacrifices, but they were severely critical of those who offeredNone of the prophets sought to abolish sacrifices them while at the same time oppressing or exploiting their fellow human beings. What disturbed them -- what disturbed G‑d in whose name they spoke -- was that evidently some people thought of sacrifices as a kind of bribe: if we make a generous enough gift to G‑d then He may overlook our crimes and misdemeanors. This is an idea radically incompatible with Judaism.

Read more: Understanding Sacrifice

From Darkness to Light

A central theme in life is the transition from darkness to light. It is often there in one’s experience as an individual: a patch of darkness, tinged with gloom and misery, which seems to swallow up everything. And then one moves on, making a step forward, and the darkness gives way to light.


A hint of this transition is seen in the way the book of Leviticus connects with the preceding Torah reading, the final words of the book of Exodus. The final verses of Exodus describe the completion of the Sanctuary, the wonderful portable Temple which was built at the foot of Mount Sinai, which was to accompany the Jewish people throughout their long journey in the wilderness, and which was to be set up in the Land of Israel when they finally got there.


A thick cloud then covered the Sanctuary. In fact, on account of the cloud, Moses himself was unable to enter the Sanctuary. After all the effort which had gone into building it, it was covered by a mysterious cloud, and was inaccessible.


Then comes the beginning of Leviticus: “G‑d called to Moses . . . !” The cloud cleared, and Moses was now able to enter the Sanctuary and be instructed by G‑d.


This, comments the Lubavitcher Rebbe, expresses the revelation which came after the darkness. The fact that it was preceded by a period of inaccessibility, when Moses could not enter the Sanctuary due to the thick cloud, heightens the power of the divine revelation when it came.


Torah teachings are eternal, and apply to each individual. One way the process of transition from darkness to light relates to each person is in terms of the step of teshuvah, repentance.


The person strayed, or fell, into a realm of darkness. G‑d is concealed. The person feels remote from the divine, unable to enter the Sanctuary. Then he or she makes a step forward, towards G‑d, returning to their own essence. This is teshuvah, repentance, return. The person makes a single tiny step, and G‑d “calls” to him or to her, like G‑d calling to Moses, meaning: you are Mine.


The new closeness with G‑d is greater than it was previously. For this reason, the Talmud comments that “the place where the repentant stand cannot be reached by those who are always righteous."


This process of personally entering the Sanctuary after the period of dark cloud and concealment has different modes. It can be so powerful that it is not only a transition from darkness to light, but a total transformation of darkness itself. One does not simply put the gloom and misery behind oneself; the negativity and darkness are themselves transformed into radiance. We start to see our problems and frustrations as opportunities for growth. The negative becomes a springboard for the positive. Somehow, paradoxically, joyfully, the ultimate effect of all the ups and downs is goodness.

This personal transformation is a taste of the goal of the Jewish people as a whole, and for all humanity, when the darkness of exile will be transformed into the radiance of redemption. Then, truly, the gloom of night will shine like day.

In our thoughts


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