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Parshat Vayikra 5767: Sense of Self vs. Sense of Other

by in Vayikra .

Vayikra, 1:2

Serving G-d or serving Man? 

Often we confuse G-d’s will, Halachah, with the will of the communities in which we live. Religious fashion and style become confused with fundamental Halachik requirement. We do things because they are expected of us. But, expected by whom? Expected by Hashem, by Chazal or Poskim (authentic Rabbinic authority); or expected by a group of self-appointed religious bullies? Do we know enough to know the difference? Are we learning how to discern the differences between Halachah, religious fashion, and religious bullying?

It is hard to build a strong sense of self, when it is our sense of others that dominates the choices we make. Instead of expressing our own authentic free will, too often we respond to the needs and expectations of others. We strive to satisfy bosses and customers, please parents and spouses, gain popularity among friends and impress co-religionists. I often feel the need to confront myself with questions like: “Who am I really, and what choices would I make if I had no need to please or satisfy anyone’s expectations? What kind of person would I really be? What are my true passions, my values, my true deep beliefs?”


Eroded Self - Bloated Ego

Responding to these outside compulsions, our sense of self erodes. We then suffer from insecurity and poor self-esteem that we mask with the trappings of status and blustering ego. These play havoc in leadership and human relationships.

Hashem places great value on the choices we make from our authentic selves rather than from the expectations of others. Translate Vayikra 1:2 carefully and see what it says to you: “When as a human-being, you offer up a sacrifice from yourselves [1]” or ….”you offer up some of yourself as a sacrifice.” It should be a voluntary gesture, says Rashi, and offered up from property that is uniquely your own. “The impetus to sacrifice should come from you and from none other”, says the Kelei Yakar. He continues: “..for if the sacrifice is not initiated from your own self, it is not a sacrifice to G-d because you are only doing it for self-aggrandizement. The sacrifice is not for Hashem at all, but for humankind!” With this, the Kelei Yakar gives an added dimension of meaning to the Targum Yonatan who sees a warning in the verse not to take sacrifices from idolaters. One who is motivated by ego, is also an idolater in the sense that he is acting not as a servant of G-d and his own higher self, but as a servant of the opinions of others. Rabeinu Bechayei in Chovat HaLevavot warns of the idolatrous nature of people who flatter others demonstrating their desperate need to gain approval even at the expense of telling the truth. The Seforno talks of bringing your authentic self to the sacrifice in the form of your humility, acknowledgement of shortcomings and broken heart, leaving your ego and arrogance completely out of the practice.


Sensitivity to Social and Religious Norms

I do not suggest for one moment that we should act oblivious to the expectations of others and the norms of society. What is important in becoming and remaining authentic to ourselves is not so much what we choose to do as the awareness with which we do it. Choosing to express anger in a situation is different from losing ones temper. Losing a temper is an act of ego and instinct. Consciously choosing to show anger is a free expression of our own value systems. Consciously choosing to conform to convention, fashion or social or religious norm, is an expression of self. But when people do things in response to social pressure believing that they have no choice and resenting it for the rest of their lives, they slide into a victim mode that manifests little of self and nothing of choice. The same applies when people find themselves conforming without ever having made a conscious choice at all.


Choice: Core to the Torah

Choice is core to our Torah. We are not victims. We are free to choose to observe or to disobey. With that freedom comes accountability for consequence that is part of freedom. We are free to conform or to rebel. We are free to blaze our own trails or travel in the footsteps of others. We are free to think and to innovate. We are always free to question, explore, adventure and learn. When we do make our choices, we should be conscious and aware. We should make them from within and not from without. We should align our choices with our own consciences and souls not with the approval of others. Through our choices we should seek to connect to the people we choose to admire and love, not to those who would bully us with their needs for control. We should be Makriv (make sacrifice to create intimacy) Mikkem using our own resources, our own humility and our own free choice.



[1] The Mefarshim (commentators) discuss the apparent inconsistencies of first and third person and singular and plural forms in the verse.

Latest update: October 18, 2014

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