What the Poor Man Has

Aaron and his sons shall eat the rest of it, but it is to be eaten without yeast in the sanctuary area; they are to eat it in the courtyard of the tent of meeting. — Leviticus 6:16

The Torah portion for this week is Tzav, which means “command,”from Leviticus 6:1–8:36, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 7:21–8:3; 9:22–23.

The Ba’al Shem Tov, a renowned Hasidic teacher in the eighteenth century, used to say that he was envious of the poor. Now, many people are envious of movie stars or sports figures; many people express a desire to become the president of the United States or the doctor who cures cancer. But have you ever heard of someone saying that they wished to be poor? What did the Rabbi find so enviable about poor people?

This week’s Torah portion includes many laws regarding sacrifices. One category of sacrifices was called the grain offering. This was the offering of the poor who could not afford to present an animal or bird to God. The grain offering was unleavened bread, also known as the “poor man’s bread.” It was flat and simple – a most humble offering.

Interestingly, the laws regarding these offerings indicate that they are especially holy. While most sacrifices could be consumed by anyone, only the holy priests were permitted to eat the grain offerings. Moreover, the offerings had to be eaten in the holy sanctuary area of the Tabernacle, and then later, the Temple. So it stands to reason that if these grain offerings of the poor were given such special treatment, the poor who offered them must be special as well.

The Hasidic Rabbi explained his admiration for the poor by pointing out their special quality. He said that the rest of us are distracted and fooled by the illusions of our material possessions and wealth. We lack clarity about life, God, and our relationship to Him. But the poor experience a connection with God that the Rabbi envied. The poor have no one and nothing to rely upon except for the Lord. They are clear about what and who matters in life. As a result, they forge a deep relationship with God and enjoy an extra close connection.

In Psalm 40, King David proclaims, “But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the LORD think of me” (v. 17). Since when is the king considered poor?

In truth, David didn’t want for anything, but he revealed something about us all. The reality is that we all are poor and needy. No matter what we may think we have, the truth is that we don’t have anything at all. Everything belongs to God, and the fact that He has blessed us with certain things today is no guarantee that we will be given them again tomorrow.

The good news is that this realization can deeply enhance our relationship with God. When we recognize that we, too, are poor and needy, we rely only on Him. We can develop the kind of closeness with God that the Rabbi envied and that God desires.

What the Poor Man Has

You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with grain offerings nor wearied you with demands for incense. — Isaiah 43:23

The Torah portion for this week is Vayikra, which means “and He called,” from Leviticus 1:1–5:26, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 43:21–44:23.

The following story is told in connection with this week’s Haftorah reading from the book of Isaiah: There was once a businessman who arrived home after his travels and hired a porter to carry his luggage from the train station to his home. When the porter arrived at the businessman’s house, he set the luggage by the door and approached the man for payment. However, the man looked at the porter closely and then said, “That’s not my luggage. It looks like the same suitcase as mine, but it isn’t mine.”

The surprised porter said, “But if it looks the same, how can you tell that it isn’t yours?” The businessman replied, “Because you look tired and weary from hauling it. My luggage was light and it would have been easy for you to carry. That luggage can’t possibly be mine!”

In this week’s Torah reading, we learned about the sacrifices and service in the Temple. In the Haftorah, we read about a time when the service and worship in the Temple was far from what it should have been. The prophet Isaiah scolded the people because they brought countless sacrifices to the idols they worshiped, but neglected making the proper sacrifices to God.

God said to the people through Isaiah, “You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrificesI have not burdened you with grain offerings nor wearied you with demands for incense.” It was as if God were saying, “Israel, if you are weary and tired, it is certainly not from serving Me. Service of the one true God is never debilitating; in contrast, it is refreshing.”

A few chapters earlier in Isaiah, we read, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). The service that God outlined in the Torah reading, and which the prophet accused Israel of abandoning in theHaftorah reading, is a service that lifts up the worshiper – never drags the worshiper down. True service to God breathes life and inspiration into our souls – if only we would embrace it.

Friends, often times we hear God call us to service, and sometimes we pause for a moment to consider: “Can I really handle that? Do I have the energy, the time, and the resources? Will I be left tired and weary, depleted and lacking?”

While we need to make wise decisions and never take too much upon ourselves, we also need to remember that God invigorates those who work on His behalf. God doesn’t burden us with more than we can handle and He blesses those who serve Him with strength, vitality, and grace.

Never Too Weary

Be Yourself!

Every grain offering you bring to the LORD must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey in a food offering presented to the LORD. You may bring them to the LORD as an offering of the firstfruits, but they are not to be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma. Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. — Leviticus 2:11–13

The Torah portion for this week is Vayikra, which means “and He called,” from Leviticus 1:1–5:26, and theHaftorah is from Isaiah 43:21–44:23.

A renowned rabbi once said, “If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.”

Or put more simply, be yourself!

But why? Why is it so important that we are ourselves and not an imitation of someone else?

The reason is because if God chose to create us in the first place, it’s because He thinks that we are a good idea. God wants us to exist, so if we try to be someone else, we are not fulfilling the purpose of our creation. God wants us to be us.

In this week’s Torah reading, we find many different laws relating to offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle and then in the Holy Temple. Now, while we no longer bring animal sacrifices to God, we can understand the sacrificial system as a form of worship and relate to the laws on that level. The Hebrew word for sacrifice iskorbon, which is related to the word karov, meaning “close.” The act of bringing a sacrifice was a way to become close to God — something that we can strive toward even today.

In these verses we read about the following law regarding sacrifices: “you are not to burn any . . . honey in a food offering presented to the LORD . . . Season all your grain offerings with salt.” We are not allowed to add honey to our offerings, and we are required to add salt. Why?

The Sages explain the symbolism of honey and salt in this particular context. Honey is something that is added to food in order to change its flavor – to make it sweeter. Salt, on the other hand, is not meant to change the flavor of a dish; rather it is a seasoning that enhances the flavor already existing in the food. While honey changes the taste, salt makes the taste stronger. Therefore, honey symbolizes trying to change who we are while salt represents making who we are even better.

Today, we offer ourselves to God through service. We dedicate our lives to serving and working for God’s purposes. However, God doesn’t want us to deny who we are at our core (hold the honey); He wants us to magnify the unique talents and abilities that He gave to us (add the salt) and use them in service to Him.

What makes you unique? What talents and treasures has God instilled within you? Identify those things and develop them as best as you can. Then designate them for God’s purposes and offer yourself to Him.

Be Yourself!