“The ‘Sacrifice’ that Lasts Forever”
(updated and revised from Vayikra 5765-2005)

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

On this Shabbat, synagogues around the world, commence reading of the book of Vayikra–Leviticus, the third book of the Five Books of Moses. Much of the content of the book of Leviticus deals with the rituals and rules related to the responsibilities of the כֹּהֲנִיםCohanim–the Priests, and the לְוִיִּםLeviim–the Levites, with special focus on the sacrificial offerings that were brought in the Tabernacle in ancient times.

The laws of animal sacrifice are extraordinarily complex, filling many tractates and scholarly tomes. Despite the extreme complexity of the subject matter, in many Jewish communities there is still a quite prevalent custom for even very young children to begin their Torah study with parashat Vayikra.

The Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah, 7:3, therefore asks: Why, when we begin teaching children, do we begin with Torat Cohanim, the section of the Torah that deals with the Temple service? The Midrash answers: “Because children are pure of sin, and the offerings purified those who brought them. Let the pure children come and involve themselves in the study of the purifying offerings.”

The Avnei Azel cited in Otzar HaTorah–the Torah Treasury of ArtScroll, notes that young children begin Torah study with a portion that discusses sacrifices,
in order to inspire parents to willingly make sacrifices on behalf of their children’s growth in Torah. If parents [truly] want to inculcate their children with passion for, and commitment to, Torah and mitzvot, the parents must be willing to show sacrifice. Parents must be prepared to bear the effort and the cost that goes into educating their children, even if it means forgoing pleasures, comforts or even some [basic] necessities.

It is told of Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapiro, that it was his mother’s extraordinary commitment and devotion to Torah that encouraged him to become the great scholar and disseminator of Torah. Rav Yehuda Meir Shapiro was just a young lad in the last decade of the 19th century, but his mother was determined, even at that young age, that he receive the finest education. Although his family was not wealthy, Yehuda Meir Shapiro studied Torah with a private tutor in his parents’ home, as was customary for many children of people of means. His hired tutor would remain with his family throughout the year, and return to his own home only for brief visits during the Jewish holidays.

On the night after Pesach, Rav Yehuda Meir Shapiro was awakened by his mother’s plaintive sobbing. Upset that even a single day had gone by where Torah had not been taught in her home, she was praying and reciting psalms because the tutor had not yet returned after the holiday. Furthermore, she was concerned that the tutor would not return, perhaps because they had not paid him enough.

It is this type of sacrifice on the part of parents that blazes the way for children to be inspired by their parents’ commitment to Torah.

The Midrash (Shohar Tov, on Psalms 8) records that when G-d came to give the Torah to the people of Israel at Sinai, the people responded enthusiastically (Exodus 24:7): נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע, “We will do and we will understand!” “Who will be the guarantors that you will uphold the Torah?” G-d demanded. “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be our guarantors,” the people responded. “I will not accept them,” said the Al-mighty. “Then our prophets will be our guarantors.” “No,” said G-d. “Then our children will be our guarantors,” said the people. G-d immediately accepted the children as the guarantors and gave the Torah to Israel.

It is not uncommon for people to shrug off their own responsibilities by saying: “Our parents and our grandparents will keep the Torah. It’s for the older generation.” At other times people say, “It’s for the prophets and the rabbis, let them worry about it.” But unless our Jewish children are “saturated” with Torah, there is no hope for a Jewish future. And, unless the adult Jewish community is prepared to “sacrifice” in order to ensure that the children are given a proper intensive all-encompassing Jewish education, then the people of Israel are doomed.

It is not only the physical animal sacrifices that is the theme of this week’s parasha, parashat Vayikra. It is the willingness on the part of the Jewish people to make the every-day, mundane sacrifices that is the central and essential message of this week’s parasha. For it is only through these kinds of “sacrifices” that the perpetuation of our people is guaranteed.

May you be blessed.