Torah Reading for Week of March 9-15, 2014
“Motivation and Responsibility: What the Olah Can Teach Us”
By Rabbi Avraham Greenstein, AJRCA Professor of Hebrew
This week’s Torah portion opens with Moses being told to command Aaron and his sons concerning the Olah burnt offerings. The 11th century commentator Rashi echoes the words of the Midrash, pointing out that the word being used, “צו,” means that not only is Moses to command the priests, but also to urge and encourage them to be diligent in this matter. After all, staying up all night tending to sacrifices was not an easy job. It seems reasonable that they might have benefited from some extra urging and encouragement.
Rashi then goes on to quote Rabbi Shimon from the Midrash. He states that there was need for extra urging and encouragement because this was a case of “חסרון כיס,” a case where there is an expenditure of money or a potential financial loss. The purchase of the animal to be sacrificed was certainly an expenditure of money. Moreover, the Olah sacrifice is completely burnt: the offerer does not receive a portion of the meat for his or her self. This can decidedly be construed as a financial loss. For this reason, the offerer required extra encouragement to bring an Olah despite its financial ramifications.
Although Rashi does not find this statement of Rabbi Shimon problematic, the various other commentaries are puzzled by it. It does not seem to fit with the basic meaning of the passage: If the urging and encouragement are on account of the financial loss entailed in bringing an Olah, why are they aimed at the priests? It is the offerers who have made the expenditure and sustained the financial loss. It is the offerers who should require the urging and encouragement. The Or haChayim entertains and rejects several answers to this question before explaining that the diligence of the priests is required so as to ensure that the sacrifices make it to the altar in the correct order and at the correct time. If they do not, the sacrifices may be rendered invalid. In elucidating this, the Or haChayim elegantly explains how it was necessary to urge the priests to be diligent lest the offerer suffer the financial loss of an invalid sacrifice.
What emerges from the words of the Or haChayim is a lesson in line with the dictum of the sages: “יהי ממון חברך חביב עליך כשלך” (“Let your fellow’s property be as dear to you as your own”). We are required by the Torah to care for the property of others as we care for our own. The diligent priests were entrusted with both the spiritual and the practical, material dimensions of bringing sacrifices. Much like the priests of Moses’ time, rabbis and spiritual leaders of today are often entrusted with both the spiritual and material wellbeing of their charges. The Torah emphasizes that looking out for the material and financial wellbeing of others can be just as important as tending to their spiritual needs.