Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
A Childs' First Torah Lesson: Korbonot?
Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 08:39:34 PM
Number of views: 2586

For centuries,(even TODAY in Chassidic Yeshiva Chedar), Jewish children traditionally began their Torah studies with Parshat Yayikrah. It seems odd that a child's entry into the world of Torah should begin with a study of the sacrifices offered to G-d. Why should it not begin with the narrative of Creation in the Book of Genesis or the narrative of Israel 's liberation from bondage in Egypt in the book of Exodus? The midrash says that since children are pure and have not yet tasted sin, G-d wants them to begin their study of the Torah with the passages dealing with sacrifices, in accordance with the principle "Let those who are pure come and deal with things that are also pure" (Midrash Tanhuma, section 96)

Young children are not emotionally equipped to deal with the various topics encountered in the Books of Genesis and Exodus; we do not want their initial entry into the world of Torah study to be the chaos in Genesis or the hardships in Exodus. Adults who live in a world of alienation, sin, injustice and chaos can more easily identify with the narratives of the first two books of the Torah. Children, however, enter the world of Torah after the portable Mishkan has been constructed and has been filled with G-d's glory, beginning their study with Vayikrah (1.1): And He called to Moses, and G-D spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting (Mishkan), saying…"

Nonetheless, this idealistic approach still seems strange because it does not relate to the interest Parashat Vayikra may or may not arouse in children or to the minute details they must learn. Furthermore, the matching of the purity of children's souls and the purity of the subject of study is no guarantee that they will learn this material properly or will be able to understand the portion. The above midrash focuses on the metaphysical matching of the spiritual level of children and Parashat Vayikra's spiritual level.

The principle, "Let those who are pure come and deal with things that are also pure," implies that children must assume responsibility. Since an adult can no longer understand such pure matters, only children, with their pure souls, can understand them. Because of their naïve, direct, pristine approach to life, children are more capable than adults of understanding what the offering of sacrifices is all about. Adults do not experience the intense longing that drove Cain and Abel to offer sacrifices to G-d; only children can experience that emotion.

This idea of the child's superiority has a Torah logic. According to this logic, a child's innocence is not a problem to be overcome, but rather an asset. Only innocent children can understand the subtle emotions expressed in the laws governing sacrifices; only they can comprehend the secret way of drawing nearer to G-d, because they are unsullied by sin. The word Korban (sacrifice) is from the root Karov, to come close to G-D.

The child's perspective is an instrument adults can use to recapture a pure understanding of sacrifices and to rekindle the longing to draw nearer to G-d and to give of oneself. Isaiah addresses adults who have strayed from G-d and who use the act of offering a sacrifice to substitute for a genuine longing to draw nearer to G-d.

Read from a child's perspective, Parashat Vayikra reminds adults that the sacrifice's function is to express, not replace, a longing to draw nearer to G-d; that our souls are connected to, not separate from, our bodies; and that the way to draw nearer to G-d is to offer a sacrifice. Not in the modern sense of giving without expecting anything in return, but in the biblical sense of giving in order to draw nearer to G-d.

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