Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Shehting korbanos

Parshat Va'Yikra

As we enter Sefer Va'Yikra I was wondering how my recent shehita experience would affect my understanding of the topics. Sefer Va'Yikra is mostly involving karbanos and other mikdash related issues (though not exclusively).

Many people, including myself, simply do not relate to Sefer Va'Yikra. It deals in topics that have no relevance to us today and therefore are more difficult to understand. That results, if I may be so daring and brazen as to say, in being bored and uninspired and uninterested in the whole (or most of) Sefer Va'Yikra.

As I mentioned, I was wondering of my shehita experience would somehow change all that. Make it more understandable. More interesting.

It turns out that a blogger called A Simple Jew was wondering the same thing. He emailed me and asked me for my thoughts.
A Simple Jew asks: How has your training as a shochet helped you better appreciate Sefer Vayikra since it deals with the more physical aspects of animals and their anatomy?

Rafi G. of Life In Israel responds: Honestly I was wondering if it would help me understand and relate better. I think I will only be able to answer the question completely when Sefer Vayikra is behind us. But being that I have almost finished going through half of Parshas Vayikra already, I can say that I understand better the physical aspect of the korbanos.

Meaning I am able to follow the different parts of the animal and understand what is getting burnt, what is getting eaten; what the different parts are. I realize that I do feel a certain understanding of the korbanos.

When shechting my most recent animals, I tried to contemplate what it would be like doing so in the mikdash for a korban. The first thing I thought about was the amount of time it took. Of all the people I went with, none of us were professional butchers, aside from the Arabs who skinned the animal and made the initial breakdown. It took us an awfully long time to cut the animal up. I thought about how it would be done in the mikdash when they are slaughtering tens, hundreds and even thousands of korbanos in a day.

They have to get the animal down into the rings (I am sure it was no easy feat) at the northern end and then slaughter it. They had to then skin it and cut it open and remove various organs for various procedures. They had to break it down and separate the various parts that needed to be placed on the mizbeah or eaten. This must have taken plenty of time, even assuming they had expert kohanim there butchering the animals. And they had to do this tens of times a day, minimum. The work in the mikdash must have been an awesome sight to see, the kohanim whizzing about efficiently breaking down all these animals.

The Ramban is famous for saying that when one offers a korban on the mizbeah, he is meant to consider as if he should be the one up there being sacrificed as atonement for his sins. The animal takes his place, but his feeling should be that it should have been him up there. That will spur a person on to doing t'shuva.

As I waited to shecht my animals, I looked at them and thought about that. I considered myself doing that in the mikdash (shehita is kosher for a non-kohen to perform in the mikdash) and thinking about the animal taking my place. I stood there looking at the animal, even petting it a bit and talking to it. I said to it that it is the vehicle for my performing a mitzva and it is fulfilling its purpose in this world in the process.

While maybe a professional shohet would not think about these things, because he is de-sensitized, such as a doctor is allowed to see female patients because it is so common by him the tznius issues do not affect him in that sense, I am a novice. A guy just starting out. For me to shecht a 300-500 kilo calf was an awesome experience and made me think about it.


a_man said...

Here's an interesting idea I came across:
Second pasku reads:
אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה' מן הבהמה מן הבקר ומן הצאן תקריבו את קרבנכם

Loosely translated:
[Speak to the nation of Israel and tell them so:] Should a person amongst you bring a sacrifice, from the cattle or from the sheep you shall bring your sacrifice.

The original Hebrew, though should have been rendered a bit differently to be more "accurate":
אדם מכם כי יקריב קרבן

I.e., the word Mikem (from you) should have appeared after Adam. Why does the Torah change the order of the words thus making it harder to read.

To answer that we can say that the Hashem wants to give us another hint:
אדם כי יקריב
="A person who wishes to draw *close* (to Hashem)." The word Korban (=sacrifice) is from the same root and is infact etymologically related to Karov (=near-by). So, how *can* a person draw near to Hashem?

מכם קרבן
="From within you should the sacrifice come". In other words, a person should give up a bit of his/her ego, desires, aspirations and habits. The sacrifice should come from within from things that really matter to a person. When a person is willing to give a bit of it away he is on route to drawing closer to Hashem.

Some people have BIG egos, who can walk all over other people and crash them without never noticing a thing. Their yetzer is like a behema gasa who distinguishes not between stepping on lumber or a live person. As the Torah continues:
מן הבהמה מן הבקר

Others have a much more subtle yetzer which is not so aggressive, but nonetheless, it will lead the person down the wrong path over time. It too needs to be dealt with:
ומן הצאן

With a bit of awakening from below (eish min ha ediot) by putting one's personal internal behema on the mizbeah le'Hashem, one evokes a reaction in kind with great fire coming down from heaven and consuming the korban.

This whole process is actually spiritual and requires a person to work on his/her midot and refine them. However it does manifest on the physical plane as a person bringing a physical behema and putting it on the physical mizbeah and putting his hands on the head of the animal and thinking to himself that it should have really been him being sacrificed, and Hashem in his infinite mercy is accepting the aminmal in his stead. Nonetheless, the whole physical act is only a reflection of the tikkun ha mitod that the person should be undergoing.

Good luck with the "mikem korban le'Hashem"!

a_man said...

Incidentally, there are two things that we cannot eat ourselves but were always given over to the mizbeaz: the Dam (=blood) and the Chelev (=certain fat)

The Mikem Korban I mentioned before, that a person should give something over of himself in order to draw closer to Hashem etc, can be best seen with Dam and Chelev.

Dam represents chayut (=vividness, related to chaim = life) as the Torah indicates elsewhere that the life is in the blood). In the case of Mikem Korban these are things a person is "alive for" i.e., most passionate about.

Chelev represents ta'anug (=pleasure). Need I say more?

So, the Torah says, in other words, when it comes to chayut and ta'anug, these things should relate to avodat Hashem (represented by the mizbeah on which Dam and Chelev we always put).

Ah, but a person might want to have chayut and ta'anug from devarim betelim or to pleasure himself exclusively -- this is where he's reminded of "Mikem Korban": take away some of your personal worldly comforts, pleasure and passion and put it over the mizbeah, give it over to Hashem and you will merit real ta'anug and real chayut as you draw nearer to mekor ha chayut...

I can go on and on, but I think I took enough of your time, which you gave over begeder "Mikem Korban".

Rafi G said...

shkoyach. that was a nice vort. I wondered how the dam and chelev fit in...