Parshas Vayikra discusses the mitzvot of animal sacrifice for the purpose of atonement. In Judaism, the yetzer hatov and the yetzer hara are two forces within us: the inclination to do good and the inclination to do evil. When we lose the inner battle between yetzer hatov and the yetzer hara, the result is we sin.
The parsha seemingly gives no rational reason why animal sacrifice is called for when we sin: why Hashem wants us to burn animal flesh as our atonement and a corrective for sin. All we know about the purpose of animal sacrifice is what it says in the Torah: “It was a satisfying aroma to God,” which does not seem to directly answer the question of why animal sacrifice atones for sin. The answer is that when we do the will of Hashem without knowing the reason, the act is even more meaningful, bringing that “satisfying aroma to God.”
Today there is no animal sacrifice, because we have no Temple. But perhaps we can still apply this important lesson from Parshas Vayikra; seeking to please whom we love when there is no specific reason is the ultimate “sacrifice,” when there is no secondary motive or rational reason for doing so.
No Reason to Explain!
How does this work in practice? When a husband says, for example, “Whatever you want, I’ll do. No reason to explain why!”
Now let’s compare that to the scenario in which the same husband gives his wife a birthday gift. There’s a logical reason for the gift. In fact, more than one. That already makes it of lesser value than the gift that comes out of nowhere, for no reason, out of love. Also, if the husband had forgotten to buy his wife a birthday gift, there might have been repercussions, not only for him but for the couple’s shalom bayis.
We have two gift-giving situations. The one in which someone gives something for no reason, and the one in which the giving makes complete, rational sense. In which scenario, do you think, would the receiver of the gift be more “pleased?”
No Ulterior Motive
Here is a Vayikra-themed poem that describes the battle between the yetzer hara and the yetzer hatov, animal sacrifice, and why it is pleasing to Hashem and to others when we do things out of love, and with no ulterior motive.
Without Thinking Twice
Yetzer Hara is engaged in battle, With Yetzer Hatov, two of them grapple, Tangles and knotted into a snaggle, The Yetzer Hatov begins to straggle, Makes an offer, an attempt to haggle, But falls behind and now starts to frazzle, Yetzer Hara makes its move and tackles, Yetzer Hatov now ruffled and rattled, Shell-shocked, shaken, startled and baffled, Fully defeated, it is now shackled, The struggle within was losing battle. Now he must look for unblemished cattle, Hands on two horns he must grab and gaffle, Drag the beast toward the Tabernacle. To the Tent of Meeting, at its entrance, His hand on the head for an ascendance, Offering without uttering a sentence, Seeking God's atonement and repentance, To achieve spiritual transcendence. As the animal flesh goes up in smoke, Forgiveness of sin is what he invokes, A smoke that gives a satisfying smell, Reason it pleases, the Torah does not tell. From the beginning to end of Vayikra, Details of sacrifices in this parsha. Sacrifices explained not once or twice, During Temple times, they were way of life, Why then do we perform the sacrifice, For unknown reason, without thinking twice? No reason IS the motive and reason, A mitzvah that defies logic and deepens, Our love of God, our motive is simple, To please whom we love is truly blissful, Not seeking a reason to please, the symbol.
By Ronen Khordipour