Friday, 31 March, 2017 - 12:26 pm

A man sat down in a bar. The bartender asked, "What'll it be, buddy?" The man said, "Set me up with seven whiskey shots. Make them doubles."

The bartender did this and watched the man slug one down after another until all seven were gone, almost as quickly as they were served.

Staring in disbelief, the bartender asked why he was drinking so much. "You'd drink them this fast too, if you had what I have."

The bartender hastily asked, "What do you have?"

The man replied, "I have one dollar."

This week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, discusses sacrifices. Though these laws have been inoperative for almost 2,000 years, since the destruction of the holy Temple, the moral principles they embody are still challenging.

One set of sacrifices warrants particular attention: The Olah sacrifice of the poor man, one that is totally burned on the altar. The normal offering was a bull or male sheep; however, a pauper who could not afford a bull or even a sheep could bring a bird.

The Torah states:

He shall split it… he need not sever it; the Kohen shall cause it to go up in smoke on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire—it is an elevation-offering, a fire-offering, a satisfying aroma to G-d”.

Usually, animals were skinned before their flesh was burned atop the altar. However, this verse teaches us that the pauper’s offering was not skinned, but it was left intact to be burned on the sacred altar, feathers and all. Now, the smell of feathers burning is awful. Why create such a repulsive odor in the Temple? The answer is that since the pauper only brings a little bird, if the feathers and wings were plucked, the altar would receive a tiny creature. The pauper may then feel denigrated and dejected. Compared with a sheep and a bull, what has he contributed? Therefore, in order to embellish an otherwise paltry bird-offering, the wings remain, so that the offering occupies more space on the altar.

Yet, there is a question. As by other offerings, the verse concludes with “a pleasant aroma to G-d.” But nothing smells worse than burning bird-feathers! Even if G-d wants those feathers on the altar to protect the dignity of the poor man, we still cannot deceive ourselves and define it as a pleasant aroma!

One of the great Chassidic masters of the 19th century was Rabbi Mordechai Dov Twerski of Hornsteipl (1839–1903), author of "Emek Shaalo" and many other works.

The custom of the Chassidim was that when they gathered for a meal, a plate of food would be placed before the Rebbe, who would taste a mere morsel. He would then pass the remainder of the food to the Chasidim, who would wait anxiously to partake in the leftovers of their holy Rebbe.

One Shabbat, Reb Mordechai Dov, accompanied by his Chasidim, stayed at the inn of a poor widow. Her husband had died, leaving her alone with her children. The income from the inn enabled them to survive. During the Shabbat morning meal, the hostess brought out a pot of cholent which was placed in front of the Rebbe.

As was his custom, he tasted a small portion and stopped. But instead of passing on the plate to his disciples, he licked his lips and smiled. Then he said, "This is truly delicious, I must have more!"

The Chasidim were stunned. The Rebbe never ate more than a half-teaspoon before beginning the distribution. The Rebbe took a larger portion and again commented on its delightful taste. Then he ate more and exclaimed: “Ah! I have never tasted such a delicious cholent!”

He continued to eat, and within minutes the pot on the table was empty. The Chasidim were shocked at the seemingly uncharacteristic gluttony of this holy man. They had never seen him enthusiastic about food to the point that he would consume an entire pot of cholent and compliment it to the heavens.

Dismayed, the Rebbe’s personal assistant returned to the kitchen with the empty pot, only to be told that there was no more cholent. Sticking his finger inside of the pot, the assistant tried to partake in a taste of the cholent that the Rebbe had just eaten.

He licked his finger, and almost collapsed. He yelled for water. The cholent, he said, was “lethal.”  

He then realized what has transpired. The widow had accidentally added kerosene to the cooking oil. The cholent was atrocious. The Rebbe realized that if his Chassidim would taste the cholent, they would hurl frustrations at the poor widow, chastise her for her awful mistake, and cause her deep shame for destroying the cholent. Therefore, the Rebbe decided to consume the entire pot of cholent himself and protect her dignity.

The assistant related the story to the Chassidim who then understood the Rebbe’s mysterious “gluttony.”

But I will ask a simple question: The Rebbe was very noble. But why did he have to declare the cholent to be the most delicious one he had ever tasted in his life? He could have eaten the entire cholent without lying. The same mission would have been accomplished, and no untruth would be uttered.

The Rebbe was not, G-d forbid, saying a lie. For him, what he said was true! Can you conceive of a more delicious cholent than one in which every spoon preserves the dignity of a sensitive and broken soul?

The best ordinary cholent can only be a good as your taste buds are receptive to potatoes, beans, meat and barley. But when with every bite of your cholent you are protecting the dignity of a widow, then the delight is endless, and the pleasure infinite.

Now we understand why the Torah tells us that the burned feathers of the pauper’s sacrifice generate a “pleasant aroma to G-d.” Can there be a more delightful smell to G-d than the one which spares a poor Jew embarrassment?

You and I may consider the smell of the burning feathers to be awful, but for G-d, if this is conferring upon a poor Jew more dignity, strength, and joy—there can be no aroma more fragrant.

Just this week, an elderly widower, Binyamin Zohar, went to the grave of his wife to observe her first Yahrtzeit (anniversary of her passing). He craved to say Kaddish at her grave but apparently the Minyan he expected never showed up. So he sat alone at the grave waiting….

A man accompanying him sent a photo to the widower’s son, Rafi Zohar, who lives in LA. When Rafi received a photo showing his father sitting at his mother’s graveside in Petach Tikvah, Israel, with an accompanying message saying that his father has been waiting for a Minyan for hours, he felt helpless.

With little hope, Rafi posted the photo to Facebook with a plea for people to take 15 minutes of their time to help his father.

You know what happened? Over 100 people showed up in the cemetery to help fill a Minyan so that Binyamin could say Kaddish at his wife’s graveside on the day of her Yahrtzeit.

In the middle of a workday, 100 Jews who saw a Facebook post about a lonely Jew searching for a Minyan in a cemetery picked themselves up and went to join him for Kaddish!

Binyamin expressed shock at the turnout. “I would have never believed it,” he said. “Last year, at the funeral, we barely had a Minyan.” With tears in his eyes he blessed all those who had come out and helped. He told them how much he misses his beloved wife, and that their showing up warmed his heart and made him feel less alone.

There is no aroma as sweet to our Father in Heaven as when His children look out for each other, care for one another and protect the dignity of each and every one.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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