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Haketav V’Hakabbalah: Vayikra

The 4th of Nissan is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg, author of HaKesav Vehakabala (1785-1865). A talmid of Rav Akiva Eiger, Rav Yaakov Tzvi was appointed Rav of Kenigsberg, Germany, spending years fighting against the Reform movement. In addition to his most bfamous work, he also wrote Iyun Tefilla, which was printed together with another perush on tefilla called Derech Hachaim by the Nesivos Hamishpat.


HaK’tav VeHaKabbala also uses the phrase (Beraishit 4:3) “VaYehi MiKeitz Yamim” as a springboard for developing his understanding of the motivations for the sacrifices of Kayin and Hevel.  But, instead of suggesting that the phrase is alluding to   human mortality, this commentator invokes a Midrash in order to define what sort of “end of days” are being referred to:

Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapt. 21

…The night of the (future) Yom Tov of Pesach arrived.

Adam said to his sons (Kayin and Hevel), “In the future, on this night, the Jewish people will be offering their Pascal sacrifices. You too should offer sacrifices before our Creator.”

Kayin brought as a sacrifice from what was left over from his food, parched corn and flax seeds.

And Hevel brought from the first-born of his flock and of the fattest of the sheep whose wool had not been sheared…(6)

The commentator contends that since according to Bava Metzia 106b, the middle of the month of Nissan, when Pesach occurs, is the beginning of the spring harvest, (7) the words “Keitz” (end) and “Ketzir” (harvestà end of the growing season) are intimately related to one another conceptually by virtue of their sharing the letters “Kuf” and “Tzadi”. Furthermore, the act of harvesting is also a process whereby the stalks of grain are shortened (“Katzar”).

Aside from HaK’tav VeHaKabbala’s impressive inventory of additional words that share similar connotations, the assumption that the offering of sacrifices are particularly appropriate during periods of harvesting one’s crops provides an additional context for understanding what may motivate one to offer sacrifices. Farming has always entailed considerable delayed gratification. From the time that the land is prepared for planting, the many stages required for the successful growth of crops as well as the manifold threats to their successfully coming to fruition and ripening, require considerable “Emuna” and “Bitachon” (faith and trust) to serve as counterbalances to the angst and tension that generally accompany agricultural activities. So many things are simply beyond the farmer’s control: will it rain sufficiently; will insects destroy the fruits and vegetables; will fungi and other diseases devastate the year’s harvest; will there be an early frost? Even once everything is ready for picking, will anything happen that will occasion portions of the crop to be lost? Consequently, when all has been successfully harvested, not only can the farmer first begin to appreciate the largesse that is his/hers, but s/he can finally breathe a sigh of relief that all of the manifold fears and dangers did not come to pass. For someone at that point not to acknowledge his debt of gratitude to HaShem after all that has taken place, would constitute a considerable manifestation of ingratitude and self-absorption. But when it comes time to choose what ought to be offered, if all that a person is ready to part with is what s/he thinks that s/he can best do without, as opposed to sharing the choicest and the best, a study in the psychology of how one ought to acknowledge having come through a difficult period becomes apparent. Perhaps the difference in approaches of Kayin and Hevel in light of HaKetav VeHaKabbala’s interpretation can be categorized as a question of emphasis with regard to the partnership between God and man in all earthly endeavors—do I give myself the bulk of the credit when a project is successfully completed, and therefore HaShem’s Role is no more than secondary and simply Enabling, OR must I recognize that whatever I may accomplish, this is primarily the result of God’s Intervention and therefore He is due the bulk of the credit.  A person busy patting himself on the shoulder will not think of sacrifice; the individual who genuinely appreciates God’s Hand in his success, will not think of not expressing his appreciation, and sacrifice addresses such a need.

The Midrash cited above by HaK’tav VeHaKabbala attributes to Adam HaRishon the idea of sacrifices, despite the fact that within the text of Beraishit, there is no indication that anyone other than Kayin and Hevel initiate this practice. Yet no lesser Rabbinic light than RaMBaM posits that not only may Adam have verbally encouraged his sons to sacrifice as suggested by Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, but that he himself engaged in offerings to HaShem, thereby linking sacrificing to God with the first human being described in Chumash.

Mishna Tora, Hilchot Beit HaBechira 2:2

And it is a tradition that is widely held (lit. “in the hands of everyone”) that the place in which David intended to build and upon which Shlomo actually built the altar (of the First Temple), the granary of Aravna (II Shmuel 24:16),  was the same place where Avraham had built the altar upon which he sacrificed Yitzchak (Beraishit 22:9); the same place where Noach had built an altar upon his emergence from the Ark (Beraishit 8:20); the same place wherein Kayin and Hevel offered their sacrifices (Beraishit 4:3—no reference is made to the construction of an altar as in the other instances cited here); AND IN THIS PLACE ADAM HARISHON OFFERED UP A SACRIFICE WHEN HE WAS CREATED, AND IT IS FROM THIS PLACE THAT HE WAS CREATED (RaMBaM is identifying the “Even Shetiya” [the rock from which Jewish tradition claims the entire universe was formed—see Yoma 52b—and which is located on the top of “Har HaBayit” {the Temple Mount}] with Beraishit 2:7), as the Sages said, (a paraphrase of Yerushalmi Nazir 7:2, 35b) (8) “Adam was created from the place of his atonement.” (9)

Once it is suggested that not only did Adam himself sacrifice but that it was intrinsic to his nature as a result of his having been created from the very material that would eventually constitute the altars of the Temples, sacrifice is no longer to be viewed as an idiosyncratic practice of certain individuals in the Bible that was finally institutionalized at Sinai, and everyone else being able to “take it or leave it”, but rather a necessary and intrinsic characteristic of human nature from the “get go”.  If Adam was the one who told Kayin and Hevel to sacrifice, he must have been educating them as to their existential natures. Repentance and atonement are part and parcel of the human condition. By virtue of having been given free choice by HaShem—Chava appears to exercise it BEFORE she eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, by virtue of CHOOSING to eat from it in the first place (10)—man has the capacity to sin and therefore will have to be given the means by which to atone for these expected shortcomings. Furthermore, Adam HaRishon must have been the first to bring a sacrifice as a SIN offering in an effort to atone for the transgression that resulted in him and his wife being banished from the Garden of Eden.

The implications for subsequent offerings once we posit Adam as an inherent and natural sacrificer, would include that the urge to sacrifice wells up from the depths of the human being who shares a literal affinity with both altar and sacrifices. A sacrifice speaks to our inadequacies and we are trying to both acknowledge them and gain forgiveness for them. Whereas RaMBaN on VaYikra 1:9 has argued that the individual bringing the sacrifice should imagine him/herself as being offered up but for God’s Grace and Capacity for forgiveness (see, the line of reasoning suggested by the Yerushalmi and RaMBaM, which posits that man has a more personal connection with the altar than with what is placed atop it, promotes the idea that atonement is not alien or artificial, but rather lies at the heart of man’s very nature.


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