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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayikrah 5774 "An Offering of Love"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Yosef Wallis is the director of Arachim. He related to Project Witness the following story about his father, Judah Wallis, who was raised in Pavenitz, Poland.

While my father, Judah Wallis, was in Dachau, a Jew who was being taken to his death suddenly flung a small bag at him. My father caught it, thinking it might contain a piece of bread. Upon opening it, however, he was stunned to discover a pair of tefillin. My father was very frightened because he knew that if he was caught carrying tefillin, he would be put to death instantly. So he hid the tefillin under his shirt and headed for his bunkhouse.

In the morning, while still in his bunkhouse just before the roll call, my father donned the tefillin. Unexpectedly, a German officer appeared. He ordered my father to remove the tefillin, noted the number on his arm, and ordered him to go to roll call.

There, in front of thousands of fellow Jewish inmates, the officer called out Judah’s number. He had no choice but to step forward. The German officer waved the tefillin in the air and screeched, “Jewish pig! For daring to wear these, I sentence you to death by public hanging.”

My father was placed on a stool and a noose was placed around his neck. Before he was hanged, the officer mockingly asked him what his death wish was. My father defiantly replied that he wished to wear the tefillin one last time.

The officer was dumbfounded, but he handed my father the tefillin. As my father put them on, he loudly recited the verses customarily recited while the tefillin are being wound around the fingers: “I will betroth you to me forever and I will betroth you to me with righteousness and with justice and with kindness and with mercy and I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know Hashem.”[1]

The women from the adjoining camp were also lined up at the barbed wire fence that separated them from the men’s camp, forced to watch the horrible sight.

As my father looked at the silent crowd, he saw tears in many people’s eyes. He called out in Yiddish: “Yidden, don’t cry. If I am wearing tefillin than I am the victor!”

The German officer understood the Yiddish and was infuriated. He replied to my father jeeringly “You think you are the winner? Hanging is too good for you. You are going to get a far worse death.”

My father was taken from the stool and the noose was removed from his neck. He was forced into a squatting position and two huge rocks were placed under his arms. He was told he would receive 25 lashes to his head — on which he had dared to wear tefillin.

The officer told him that if he dropped even one of the rocks, he would be shot immediately. The officer advised him, “Drop the rocks now. You will never survive the 25 lashes to the head. Nobody ever does.”

My father replied that he refused to give the Nazi that pleasure.

After the 25th lash, my father lost consciousness and was left for dead. He was about to be dragged to a pile of corpses, after which he would have been burned in a ditch, when another Jew saw him, shoved him to the side, and covered his head with a rag, so people wouldn’t realize that he was alive. Eventually, he recovered consciousness and crawled to the nearest bunkhouse that was on raised piles. He hid under it until he was strong enough to come out again. Two months later he was liberated.

During the hanging and beating episode, a 17-year-old girl had been watching the events from the women’s side of the fence. After liberation, she made her way to the men’s camp and found my father. She walked over to him and said, “I’ve lost everyone. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I saw what you did that day when the officer wanted to hang you. Will you marry me?”

He agreed. The couple approached the holy Klausenberger Rebbe, Rav Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam zt’l, and requested that he perform the marriage ceremony. The Klausenberger Rebbe, who was himself a survivor, wrote out a kesubah from memory and married the couple. That was how Rabbi Yosef Wallis’ parents met and married. Rabbi Wallis still has the handwritten kesubah in his possession.

“They will slaughter the cattle before Hashem and they will bring close the blood… and they will sprinkle the blood around the altar”[2]

Ben Ish Chai related a parable about a businessman who set out to the Bais Medrash one morning to immerse himself in Torah study for a few hours. While he was learning a wealthy merchant arrived at his home to conduct a lucrative business deal with him. Not being familiar with commerce, his wife replied that her husband was unavailable and sent the merchant on his way.

When the man arrived home and heard what happened he became angry with his wife. He told her that if such a thing were to occur again she should immediately call him.

A few days later the tax collector arrived at the businessman’s home demanding payment of their taxes. Remembering her husband’s instruction, the wife immediately summoned her husband to meet with the man at the door who ‘came for money’. When the businessman arrived home and saw who was waiting for him he became incensed. “When it came to making money you didn’t summon me, and now when someone arrives to solicit money you do call me?”

Ben Ish Chai explains that the same is true in regards to Torah and mitzvos. When one has an opportunity to perform a mitzvah, he should do so immediately with zeal, passion, and excitement. When it comes to sin however, he should become lazy and sluggish until the opportunity to sin has passed. The problem is that in our foolishness we often confuse our emotions, performing mitzvos indolently and haphazardly, while passionately jumping at opportunity to sin.

Therefore, the Torah instructs the Kohain to sprinkle the blood, which symbolizes one’s inner passion and excitement on the altar, and to burn the fat on the altar, which symbolizes laziness and slothfulness. It was specifically these two parts which were brought on the altar to symbolize their particular need for atonement, because of how we confuse the necessity of each function.

How can one breed within himself feelings of excitement and passion for Avodas Hashem?

Rashi[3] notes that the beginning of Parshas Vayikra discusses the Korbanos (offerings) that were donated to the Bais Hamikdash, as opposed to obligatory korbanos which are discussed later in the parsha.

The Steipler Gaon zt’l[4] notes that there are many concepts and mitzvos in the Torah which were offered or performed voluntarily. This includes the donation of materials used for the Mishkan, one who accepts upon himself the added rigid status of Nezirus, and the mitzvos mentioned[5] which although obligatory, have no defined amount.

What is the purpose of these mitzvos? Why doesn’t the Torah simply state the expected amounts for each?

The Steipler explains that every Jew is obligated to love Hashem. How can one force themselves to feel an emotion? What should a person do if he simply doesn’t feel that love?

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato[6] explains that external actions awaken inner emotions. If one performs an action with diligence, dedication, and alacrity, even if internally he is unexcited by it, it will awaken within him an emotional connection with what he has done.

This is also true in regards to attaining Ahavas Hashem[7]. If one acts as if he loves Hashem, and his actions reflect a deep desire to achieve that closeness, he will eventually be successful.

To that end, Hashem grants us certain leeway in our Avodas Hashem. In regards to certain things we have prerogative to decide how much we will invest in that particular mitzvah, law, or custom. This allows a person to ‘give extra’ which can awaken within him dormant feelings of love for his Creator.

The entire narrative of the Korbanos thus begins with the laws of voluntary offerings, for it is such donations that lead a person to his ultimate goal of feeling d’veykus - a deep and passionate connection with G-d.

“A man when he will bring from you and offering to Hashem”

“They will bring close and sprinkle the blood”

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[1] Hoshea 2:19-20

[2] Vayikra 1:5

[3] Vayikra 1:2

[4] Birchas Peretz, Parshas Vayikra

[5] the first Mishna in Pe’ah

[6] Mesillas Yesharim, perek 7

[7] Love of G-d

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