INSIGHT
5769 - #23

Vayikra

WHAT IS NECESSARY?

          During this past week, someone mentioned to me his recent realization about the Catholic priesthood that it seems to have been some type of derivation (lehavdel) from our kehuna, our Torah priesthood. This is clearly where they got it from; they perceive their priesthood to be a continuation of the service of the kehuna in the Temple. This is the basis for much of the ritual inherent in the Catholic service, based upon a premise that the death of Jesus was to replace the Temple sacrifices needed to atone for sins. They understood the spilling of blood to be absolutely necessary to atone for sins; the crucifixion, thus, was to be an act of spilling blood that would offer, within their thought, a most powerful and permanent atonement. This, indeed, was the early Christian argument for why the Temple was destroyed soon after this event. Its sacrifices were no longer needed; in fact, they only hid the new need to recognize the significance of the crucifixion. This was the basis for the taunt of the early Christians against Jews: what are you going to do without the Temple and the subsequent loss of atonement power and benefit of the sacrifices? It was as part of a response to this taunt that some understand the words of Rabbi Akiva in Mishna Yoma 8:9. It is Hashem who forgives, offers atonement, cleans away our sins. The absence of sacrifices, of course, doesn’t affect Hashem’s ability one iota, including the power to forgive.

            A challenge in our understanding of Torah, however, does also flow from Rabbi Akiva’s words. If Hashem can forgive without sacrifices, why are they ever needed? This type of argument, actually, was part of the Protestant attack upon Catholicism and its insistence on ritual. Why would all this ritual be necessary for God; isn’t God above this ritual? Interestingly, I was recently reading that one of the early attacks that the Catholics leveled against the Protestants was that they were Judaizing the faith. Could this have been a reference to Rabbi Akiva’s direct focus on God? Strangely, within the Jewish world, this type of attack is also often voiced against Orthodox Judaism and the Halacha? Is God really concerned about what we eat? Does what we eat really matter? Isn’t a focus on and a faith in the Divine above all this?

            The simplest way to give value to a certain act, or the avoidance of a certain act, is by showing why it is necessary. If one wants to contend that it is important for people to consume vitamin C, if one can show the positive effects of this consumption or the negative effects of not consuming this vitamin, one has a strong argument for promoting this behaviour. Simply, it is necessary. Similarly, if one wishes to show why individuals should not smoke, in showing the negative consequences of the behaviour or the positive results from abstention, one would have a strong argument. Again, simply it is necessary. The same idea applies in the realm of mitzvot. When the mechanics that are the basis of a mitzvah are shown to reflect a necessary reality of cause-and-effect, the mitzvah is often approached with greater seriousness. The argument, for example, that non-kosher food inherently harms the soul of a Jew often results in individuals approaching these laws with great caution lest they be harmed by this negative effect. An argument that lessens the force of this effect by stressing that what happens is ultimately in the hands of God, often, can lead to a certain degree of greater laxity. Yet, necessary consequence can also lead to a lack of perception of the true value of God and lead to the ridiculous conclusion of the early Christians that, somehow, the spilling of blood was so necessary in the process of atonement that even God could not override it. Somehow karbanot, sacrifices, to be appreciated at their full value must be understood as necessary yet; to be able also to appreciate their value within the full realm of the Divine, there must be a limit of this understanding of their necessity.

            This issue, actually, surfaces in many areas of the Halacha. Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 81:7 states, for example, that one should not have a non-Jewish woman nurse a Jewish child (if a Jewish woman is available), nor should one actually let a Jewish child eat non-kosher food as, while it may be halachically permitted to do so,1 it will eventually have a negative impact on the child’s being. Rema states that even a Jewish woman who ate non-kosher food – even, as Taz 81:12 points out, if the woman was permitted, because of a life-threatening illness, to eat this non-kosher food2 – should not, ideally, be allowed to nurse a Jewish baby. The consumption of non-kosher food inherently has negative consequences. Drashot HaRan, Drash 11, however, places a strong limitation on this. If a Sanhedrin declares something permitted, even if in actuality it is an item that should be forbidden, there cannot be a negative consequence from this consumption. It is the legal definition that prevails for the essence of any mitzvah is its nature as a Divine command, not the specific mechanics of cause-and-effect. After all, ones Rachmana patra, one is not held accountable when one is unable to fulfill a command. Yet is this because Hashem directly intervenes to prevent a potential negative consequence from occurring or is this a reflection of the inherent nature of a mitzvah and that its only real necessity flows from being a command of God. Is there something wrong with non-kosher meat and that is part of the explanation for why God prohibited it or is the problem with eating non-kosher meat simply the very fact that God prohibited it?

            This is the basic question with karbanot. Do they inherently have an effect? If so, their absence in our times must have a negative effect yet, since, ones rachmana patra, Hashem must intercede to prevent this potential damage. Or do they not have an inherent effect and their absence is not necessarily damaging for it is the intentional or negligent non-observance of the Divine command that harms? The non-observance of the laws of karbanot, when impossible, ones rachmana patra, simply don’t matter. Yet, if they are Divinely commanded, there must be a reason, implying that these laws must have some necessary value. This may be, though, from what we learn from them and so T.B. Menachot 110a states that whoever is involved in the study of the laws of a sacrifice is seen as one who offered them. The theoretical, though, can never truly replace the existential and we pray for the existential information necessary to understand these issues.

            Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

 


Footnotes

1 Shach 81:26 explains that, while it is forbidden to give a child non-kosher food to eat, Rema is still stating that, even in a situation where a parent does not have to remove non-kosher from a child who has taken it, because of the negative effects of the food, it is still best for the parent to remove it from the child.

2 The words of the Taz challenge an argument for distinguishing between the case of stopping a child from eating non-kosher and the case of being nursed by a woman permitted to eat non-kosher. One could contend that, in the former, the act is still a theoretically prohibited act; the child is simply exempt. In the latter case, though, the act is actually fully permitted and, most likely, even obligated for the purposes of maintaining health.

3 See, also although not directly on point, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Introduction, Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chaim.  

 (c) Nishma, 2009


 


 


 


 


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