Vayikra-Education

There is a custom for the Jewish child to begin his or her Jewish education from our parsha, Vayikra.  This is strange because not only is the subject matter (sacrifices) difficult for the child to grasp, but the details are quite dry and technical.  Obviously, it would make more sense, at first glance, to start one’s Jewish education from the interesting stories of Genesis and Exodus, rather than Vayikra.  In answer, the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 7:3) says, “Let the pure ones (children) come and deal with the topic of purity (sacrifices).”

The problem with this answer is that the description of “pure” does not generally apply to sacrifices.  We find sacrifices described as “choice” (muvchar) or as “unblemished” (tamim), but not as “pure” (tahor).  The only place that the Torah describes sacrifices as “pure” is in parshat Noach, regarding the sacrifices that Noach brought after the flood.  He was commanded to bring “pure” animals onto the ark with him so that they would survive the flood and he could sacrifice them after the flood.  But this took place before the Torah was given, and parshat Vayikra, with which children initiate their learning, is all about the sacrifices that were commanded after the Torah was given.

It is pretty amazing that Noah could differentiate between “pure” (meaning kosher) animals and those that were impure.  Noach was not among those who kept the Torah before it was given (as were the Avot).  So, he was under no self imposed obligation to bring “pure” animals as sacrifices.  Only in this detail regarding offerings do we find that Noach was connected with the Torah.  Beyond being his own simple desire, the “pure” animal sacrifices that Noach brought had something to do with Torah, something to do with that which was beyond him, even though he and his generation predated the Torah.

When we consider the concept underlying sacrifices, we have to come to the conclusion that they are beyond logic and intellect.  When we do something wrong, straying from the path given to us from Above, we need to do something to regain our spiritual footing.  We have erred within the confines of a “system,” a world-view such as the Torah, which gives us directions what to do and what not to do.  Obviously, we cannot remain operating within that system in the same way as we did until now.  We need to do something beyond the system, in order to return to our essential selves as we were before we erred in our ways.  The sacrifices provide us with that opportunity to return to ourselves.  They go beyond the laws and instructions of the “system,” and allow us to connect with our essential being in such a way that “atones” and makes up for our past mistakes.  This is not something that can be explained or demonstrated intellectually.  But, it is what Noach knew instinctively within himself, even before the Torah was given.  The same sense of self and the essence exists now as well, after the Torah was given, and even though we no longer bring sacrifices.

We may discern three epochs regarding the Jews and the Torah, which correspond to three periods in man’s life:

1) There was the historical period that preceded the giving of the Torah, during which Noach lived. This period was characterized by an informal personal connection with the Torah.

2) There was the period of the forefathers and mothers, who fulfilled the entire Torah even before it was given.

3) And there was the period subsequent to the Torah, after which the Jews became obligated in the 613 mitzvoth.

Similarly there are three periods in man’s life:

1) Prior to the age of education, during which the child is incapable of learning Torah but nevertheless has a “connection” to Torah as an inheritance that he will eventually grow into.

2)  The age during which a child becomes educated, learning about the obligations that he will have to accept upon himself.

3) Finally, the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah (12 or 13 years old), after which we become obligated in the 613 mitzvoth of the Torah.

It is within the first category above, of the child prior to education, that we find the purest and most pristine connection to the One above.  Since the child is not yet commanded or obligated, his desire for connection with God comes completely from his own heart and soul, and not from any outside influence.  This is also the essential level of purity and love that Noach expressed for the sacrifices. Since he was not commanded and furthermore had no external reason to bring offerings, his desire to do so expresses the purest form of connection and love.  It is in this sense that we have a custom to start the child off by learning parshat Vayikrah – so that “the pure should come and deal with the pure.”

For a more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 22, pp 1-6

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