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March 18, 2021  |  Vol. 42

Vayikra: Sacrificing the Animal Within Us

We have less than 2 weeks until Passover, and this week we are reading the third book of Moses: Vayikra. Vayikra is a portion that focuses on the theme of animal sacrifice. Of course, sacrifice of this kind is a primitive concept in our modern world. However, rather than taking this idea literally, we should instead think about the animalistic parts of us that should be sacrificed in a metaphorical sense.

Life consists of four elements: the mineral, the vegetable, the animal, and the human. When human beings pursue the needs of the flesh; for example, food and sex, above their spirituality, then they lower themselves to the level of animals. When we follow our bodily impulses like this, we are derailed from the path that follows G-d. That’s why it’s important for us to sacrifice the animal element that exists within all of us.

Why are we tempted to do these wrong things? Why are we led astray by greed and lust over and over again? The answer is obvious. There is pleasure to be derived from these actions. Actually, we can become addicted to this shallow pleasure. In life, we are driven towards happiness and fulfillment. Sure, we may find it through hard work and earning our joy. Alternatively, we may get impatient and choose instead to take a shortcut to pleasure.

G-d wants us to be patient and earn our happiness through our efforts. This is for sure. When we are impatient and look for the quick, easy route, it shows a lack of faith within us. How? Well, if we’re impatient to reach success, it suggests an underlying doubt that our success is coming to us. In contrast, when we wait and work diligently, we show that we have placed our trust in the Creator to deliver our blessings at the right time. This is important.

It’s easier to say than to do -- I know. This is not just because we are personally weak. In reality, we are at war with forces far greater than us. They exert an evil influence over us, which means sometimes we will stumble and make the wrong choices. Even the greatest among us will do so. One example of the forces we face is the one exerted by Lilith. Lilith predated Adam, and she wanted to be his soulmate; however, because she was not chosen by the Creator, she became jealous of Eve. This is why she continues to bother human beings; she resents that we are Eve’s children.

There are ways to overcome Lilith’s destructive powers, and these are outlined clearly in the Torah. For example, before a man makes love with his wife he must banish Lilith back to the ocean. He does this by reciting a specific portion. After the sexual act, he may surround the bed with water to keep her influence away from any children that arise from the union. Doesn’t this struggle with Lilith seem unfair? Surely the odds are stacked against us when we go up against this kind of evil? Try to trust that G-d places it in our path for a reason.

Alongside evil, G-d created the tools we needed to overcome it. We must be strong enough to maintain our spirituality when the evil inclination tries to weaken us and separate us from the Divine. One thing that won’t help your situation is believing that you’re so spiritually strong that you must be safe. G-d has been clear that the one kind of person he cannot exist alongside is an egotistical person. The ego says “I know best, I am better.” This attitude leaves no space for the light of the Creator to enter.

The importance of humility is emphasized by a story about a Kabbalist mentor who passed through a town and was begged by all of the townspeople to stay with them in their homes.

Although he had the option to live with a rich and scholarly man who appeared to have it all, he chose to live with a more ignorant man instead. What was his reason? “He knows that he doesn’t know. G-d stays away from people who know that they know. I choose to follow G-d’s example.” This reminds us that abandoning the ego is a path to G-d’s protection. After all, Moses -- our most important leader ever -- must have looked to outsiders like nobody at all. His humility was what endeared him to the Divine.

To defend ourselves from the evil inclination that surrounds us, we must humble ourselves in two ways before G-d. Firstly, we must fear His punishment. Secondly, and this is at a deeper level, we must feel a sincere awe for the Creator. We must recognize that where we are small, he is great. He is endless and infinite. All that we have is thanks to Him. We must understand this and respect it ,because when we combine fear with that deeper knowledge then we receive miraculous protection from the evil inclination.

G-d didn’t create evil by accident, of course. He deliberately placed obstacles in our path so we could please Him even more when we overcome them to do good. This is how we earn our rewards and punishments through our own actions. However, we know that we will never achieve perfection. It’s inevitable that we occasionally fall into the dark side of life. When this happens, remember that it’s an opportunity to learn and improve. Sometimes we fall so we can pick up something we’d lost in the first place. In this way, even the evil inclination can transpire to be good for us.

It must be repeated: we are in a war. All the positive thinking in the world cannot hide this fundamental truth. But fighting in this war is our lives’ work. We must struggle to control our lust for the wrong things, and we must protect the good in our lives from being infiltrated by the bad. Human beings have both blood and the Creator inside of them. Everyday we must choose which of these we wish to follow. Although mistakes may occur, we must always strive to follow G-d. This is how we sacrifice our evil, animal selves.

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