Merkaz Anash, Beis Hamedrash L’shluchim and COLlive.com present The Chassidic Perspective with Rabbi Yoel Kahn, a weekly short webcast on topics that are timely and relevant.
Rabbi Kahn, often referred to as “Reb Yoel,” is the most preeminent authority on Chabad-chassidic teachings and was the chief reviewer and transcriber of the discourses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Kahn is also the lead editor of Sefer Ha’erechim, a multi-volume encyclopedia of abstruse chassidic and mystical concepts and the head Mashpia at the Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY.
This webcast is delivered in Yiddish and a transcription in English appears below or can be printed in a PDF format.
We are beginning Sefer Vayikra, the book of korbonos. Right at the beginning, vayikra, Hashem calls Moshe, and He instructs him to tell the Yidden, that “if a person should offer from you a korbon to Hashem, you (plural) should offer your korbon from the animals, from the oxen, from the sheep.” Hashem begins in the third person, referring to “a person;” not “if you should offer” in the singular, or the royal plural. But then the conclusion should have been “He should offer his korbon from the animals,” both in the third person, and in the singular, it should read: “if a person should offer . . He should offer his korbon.” Why is it in the plural, “You should offer your korbon,” and in the second person?
Furthermore, what does “if a person should offer from you a korbon” mean? What is “from you” in reference to? Is it meant to be read “a person (from you),” or “offer (from you)”? It seems to be referring to “a person,” ‘if a person from you should offer.’ But then that should have been the actual word order! Since it actually says “should offer from you,” “from you” must refer to “offer.” But do we “offer from you”? We bring an animal, not a person! What does “offer from you” mean?
Why the Sudden Inspiration?
There’s a maamar from the Alter Rebbe in Likutei Torah which explains, that as a rule, all physical mitzvos which we observe, originate in spirituality. There is a spiritual concept of korbonos, And that’s where the physical phenomenon originates. What are spiritual korbonos? “Korbon” comes from the root of ‘kiruv’, the desire to come closer to Hashem.
Where does this urge to approach Hashem come from? It often comes from Heaven. The Gemara speaks of various proclamations that are made from Above; there’s an announcement of “return, mischievous children,” there’s a bas kol every day “woe onto the people for the disgrace of Torah,” and other proclamations. But if a bas kol is announced, and no one hears it, Then there’s no sense in making these declarations, and so what’s the point?
The Baal Shem Tov explains, that we often experience sudden feelings of remorse. Sometimes, we just want to do teshuva, to just sit down and study, learn some works of Musar or Chassidus, and it works. This urge somehow just appears suddenly. Where is it really from? The Baal Shem Tov explains that this is the result of that phenomenon; our neshama hears that bas kol, And as a result, we become consciously inspired as well.
However, in cases like these, it’s very possible that the inspiration will last a few days, perhaps even a few weeks, but will then disappear. Why is that? Because we ourselves have done nothing, we didn’t work at all, and therefore we aren’t a vessel capable of containing the inspiration which came from the bas kol. We need to do something ourselves, and when we do, we become a vessel. In Chassidic terminology, it penetrates the pnimiyus, and doesn’t remain makif. When we become a vessel, then it has an effect, but if we feel inspired yet do nothing ourselves, then it just peters out.
The Alter Rebbe explains it this way: “If a person should offer from you,” “a person,” Adam, refers to the Adam Ha’elyon. – Hashem is referred to as Adam, Like in the pesukim about the merkava, “Upon the image of the seat, there was an image in the appearance of a man,” Adam, and that Adam on the kisei ha’kavod is Hashem. – And “Adam” inspires us to “offer from you.” So it isn’t in fact an “Adam from you,” (since Adam here refers to Hashem), it’s really “offer from you,” (since we are the ones being offered), He inspires us to sacrifice something from ourselves.
Changing Our Perception
What exactly gets aroused? We have two souls, the nefesh ha’elokis and the nefesh ha’bahamis. All the announcements and inspiration that comes from Heaven, affect the nefesh ha’elokis, not the nefesh ha’bahamis. In order to affect the nefesh ha’bahamis, we need to do something ourselves, it doesn’t come from Heaven. All Heaven can do is rouse us. For example: We get inspired to do teshuva, but then do nothing; something bothers us a bit, but it doesn’t transform us.
Specifically, if we really want it to affect us, our individual traits, if we’d like to eliminate ga’avah (conceit), for example, how would we go about doing that? There’s only one way. There’s something which is causing that sense of self-importance, and we must teach and explain to ourselves, that there’s no real reason to feel self-important. If we have a lot of money, then we must know that Hashem gave it to us, and it’s for a specific purpose, for giving tzedaka. If the self-importance originates in possessing a good mind, then think about how Hashem created that, and even if we use it right, “If you learn a lot of Torah, don’t give yourself credit, because you were created for the purpose.” And when we absorb this, it can contribute to preventing self-importance.
As long as we’re convinced of our self-importance, then no closeness to Hashem will occur. And even if we hear a bas kol, like the one that announces that “Hashem despises every prideful heart,” that ga’avah is disgusting, we’ll be aware that it’s disgusting and that it’s something to get rid of, but we’ll never actually change. A person’s traits follow the mind’s lead, and as long as we’re persuaded that there’s something worth being proud of, we’ll remain a baal ga’avah. The strength of this feeling will never be weakened.
What this means is that things of a Heavenly origin are of a general nature, and they affect our neshama, which is connected to Hashem, our nefesh ha’elokis which is a “chelek Elokah mi’maal mamash.” But we’re also capable of forgetting about our neshama. Even when we’re inspired and our neshama is drawn to Hashem, the Heavenly inspiration still has no effect on the nefesh ha’bahamis.
Harnessing the Inspiration
So the Alter Rebbe explains it this way: “If a person,” Adam Ha’elyon, “should offer,” “from you,” we will be the offering, the main part of us is the nefesh ha’elokis, the “korbon to Hashem” is “from you.” and when the neshama is inspired, through the “Adam” offering “from you,” It can just remain an inspiration, which will result in nothing. So the passuk gives us good advice: When we feel something, when we’re inspired, originating with Adam, the Adam Ha’elyon, which will “offer from you a korbon to Hashem,” what we must do is “you should offer your korbon from the animals, from the oxen, from the sheep,” we must bring the animal within us closer as well, through learning, through thinking.
Without getting into the details, there’s Pesach first, and sefiras ha’omer afterwards. Pesach involved leaving Mitzrayim, following Hashem, “following me in the desert, in an unsown land,” tremendous inspiration. Still, the Gemara states that “their contamination didn’t depart until Matan Torah.” We may have been greatly inspired, to the extent that we left “mitzrayim,” but we were just tearing ourselves out of “mitzrayim,” not transforming “mitzrayim”; the nefesh ha’bahamis wasn’t transformed, our traits weren’t changed. And that’s why there are seven weeks right after Pesach, sefiras ha’omer, “count for yourselves,” we need to do the counting, to change ourselves, all seven of our middos, from chesed she’b’chesed to malchus she’b’malchus.
And this answers all the questions about the pasuk: It begins in the singular, because it’s referring to Hashem, and then it switches to the plural in reference to us; it starts off in the third person, referring to Hashem, and then reverts to the second person, instructing us what to do. The reason it says “your korbon” in the plural, is because we each have our own nefesh ha’bahamis, there aren’t any conventions, we have our own bad traits which we have to transform.
The passuk begins, generally, “from the animals”: if Hashem brings the nefesh ha’elokis closer, then we must then offer from the animal within us, the nefesh ha’bahamis. Specifically, there are two types of nefesh ha’bahamis: There’s one that’s worked up, an ox, and there’s a sheep, who’s well-behaved, but a baal taavah; those are “the oxen” and “the sheep,” two general categories of animals. “You should offer your korbon,” we all have to bring ourselves closer, And when we do that, that’s the best advice on how to get the Heavenly inspiration to last.
Challenging the Teacher
The Rebbe adds another point: The passuk states “If a person should offer from you a korbon to Hashem, you should offer your korbon from the animals etc.” And the next pasuk says “he should sacrifice it willingly before Hashem.” First it says “to Hashem,” but then it says “before Hashem”
Hashem prefers it much more when a person works than when the inspiration originates from Above. Why is this? There’s a deeper reason for why what Hashem gives us doesn’t last and is subject to expiration, while when we work, it endures. The simple reason is that if we don’t work, we’re not a vessel for the inspiration. But there’s a deeper reason: When we work on it, we actually receive qualitatively different energy from Above.
Let’s use the example of a teacher and a student: The teacher gives lectures to the students at a reasonable pace, and all is well, yet when he witnesses the students investing effort, he appreciates what his students are doing, and it summons a completely different level of teaching out of him. What happened here? The students gain doubly from their efforts: First of all, if he had lectured and they hadn’t reviewed, or had done so superficially, then they wouldn’t be proper vessels, the more they learn, the more they ponder it, the deeper they internalize it. But it’s more than just becoming a vessel, there’s something else: It arouses a deeper degree of teaching from the teacher. When he sees how involved they are, he teaches completely differently. The same principle applies Above: First, “if Adam should offer from you” then the korbon is “to Hashem” But, in the next passuk, when you “sacrifice it,” then it isn’t merely “to Hashem,” it reaches “before Hashem,”
The Rebbe interestingly reads this into Likutei Torah. Likutei Torah comments that after we labor on working with our nefesh ha’bahamis, We attain the level of “Lo Adam,” “not a person,” not just “Adam.” The earlier influence came from “Adam,” Hashem as He is like a person, – of course a spiritual “Adam,” not a physical person Heaven forbid, “Hashem does not have a body or the semblance of a body.”
What does “Adam Ha’elyon” mean? Hashem as he constricts Himself into the template of a person, so to speak. A person’s ten kochos, “let us make a man in our outline and image,” correspond to the ten sefiros above, but that’s already a definition, a contraction. Then there is “Lo Adam,” Hashem on His own, beyond all these definitions. At first it’s “Adam” which brings us closer to Him, and the korbon then is “to Hashem,” Havaya. Then when we “sacrifice it willingly,” when we work and invest, we reach “Lo Adam,” “before Hashem,” higher than Havaya, and then it lasts longer, because it’s energy of a completely different nature.