SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, 9 March 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            One of the sacrifices described in Parashat Vayikra is an offering referred to by Chazal as the “korban oleh va-yoreid” (literally, “the sacrifice that ascends and descends”).  It is so named because the size of the offering depends on the individual’s financial status.  One who commits one of the transgressions requiring a korban oleh ve-yoreid offers a female sheep or goat, but if he is poor and cannot afford an animal, he instead brings two birds (5:6-7).  If he cannot afford even two birds, then he brings a grain offering (5:11).
            Interestingly, in the case of an individual who brings two birds, the birds are offered as different sacrifices – one is offered as a chatat (sin-offering) and the other, an ola (burnt offering).  Several practical differences exist between these two sacrifices, including the fact that when a bird is brought as an ola, its head is completely severed from the body, while in the case of a chatat, the head remains attached.  Moreover, whereas the ola ha-of (bird brought as a burnt-offering) is entirely burned on the altar, the meat of the bird chatat is eaten by the kohanim.
            In any event, the question arises as to why a poor person requiring this sacrifice would need both an ola and a chatat, whereas others bring just a chatat.  If the Torah sought to lessen the financial burden on a person facing financial hardship, why did it require him to bring two small sacrifices, instead of just one?
            Ibn Ezra (5:7) cites “Rav Yitzchak” as suggesting that the needy individual must bring a second sacrifice because of the likelihood that he feels embittered over his condition.  Upon becoming obligated to bring a sacrifice, he realizes that had he been more financially secure, he would have been able to bring a more respectable sacrifice, but instead, he is forced to bring a small sacrifice.  In case he harbors resentful feelings towards the Almighty, instead of serenely accepting his condition, he is required to bring a second sacrifice.
            Rav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel deduces from this remark cited by Ibn Ezra a meaningful insight into the famous rabbinic adage, “kin’at sofrim tarbeh chokhma” (“jealousy among scholars increases wisdom” – Bava Batra 22a).  This statement, essentially, encourages jealousy among scholars, teaching that it is beneficial for the field of Torah scholarship when students feel envious of their more accomplished peers, as this incentivizes achievement, thus engendering greater ambition.  More broadly, this adage has been understood as establishing the benefits of jealousy regarding religious achievement generally.  We are encouraged to envy those who are more righteous and devoted, as this will motivate and drive us to raise our own standards.  However, Rav Finkel noted, a crucial difference exists between envying the work and effort of our more accomplished peers, and envying their natural talents or their favorable circumstances which allowed them to achieve.  In the case of the korban oleh ve-yoreid, the struggling individual is penalized for envying those who are blessed with the ability to purchase a larger sacrifice.  This ability is due solely to Providence, as it is God who determines each person’s financial standing.  Therefore, Rav Finkel explains, the disadvantaged individual should not feel envious of his peers’ larger sacrifice.  We are not to feel envious of other people’s God-given strengths and capabilities which enable them to offer “large sacrifices.”  Religious envy is appropriate when it relates to other people’s utilizing their God-given talents and abilities, not to the talents and abilities themselves.  God gives each of us a set of skills and circumstances for us to use to its fullest, and therefore what matters most is not the final product, the “size” of the “sacrifice” that we offer, but rather the extent to which we maximized our potential and ability.  Our “kin’at sofrim,” then, should be roused not necessarily by those who achieve the most, but rather by those who work hard to achieve the most they can.