Sponsored by Seth Nayowitz – l’ilui nishmat R’ Yosef ben Aharon Tzvi

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Monsey passed away last week. A tzaddik. When I lived in Monsey I once got a phone call late at night, and the caller said ‘This is the Vizhnitzer Rebbe’. So I replied ‘right, and this is Bill Clinton’. It was, in fact, the Rebbe, and he wanted to talk to me about a scandal which was about to break in Monsey.

He told me, with great wisdom, that a scandal is when someone important does something wrong; someone for whom it’s obvious that it’s beneath their standing. When anyone else does something wrong, it may be bad but it’s not a scandal. It’s just people being people.

As a result of this discussion with the Rebbe A”H, I got to know his son, R Yisroel who would phone me to discuss things now and again, and we became quite friendly. He once told me that that he just couldn’t do something which wasn’t right. After all, he was a son of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, a descendant of all the Rebbes going right back to the Baal Shem Tov. He was likely to be the next Vizhnitzer Rebbe. How could he bring himself to do something which failed to live up to that?

I once introduced R Yisroel to my Rebbe, Rav Scheinberg A”H , mentioning his illustrious yichus. Rav Scheinberg, in his inimitable fashion, said ‘banim atem l’hashem elokeichem!’. Having great ancestors is all very well, he said, but all Jews are called Hashem’s children, and there can be no greater yichus than that.

Everyone has temptations; that’s not escapable, it’s just part of life. How can we make sure that we don’t behave in a low or unbecoming way? Knowing that it’s wrong isn’t enough. We need to know that it’s pas nisht, and just not consistent with our dignity as a Jew, as a child of Hashem. That awareness is vital to being able to resist temptations and live a life of self-respect.

Chazal say that children should start learning Torah with Sefer Vayikra, not with Bereshis. Why should that be? Surely starting at the beginning with Hashehm creating everything would be more sensible than teaching young children about the technicalities of sacrifices in the Temple.

Truth is, people tend to think of Vayikra as the book about sacrifice. Although there’s a lot about them in VaYikra, if you examine the entire book of VaYikra, there is actually so much more. Korbanos aren’t even close to being the majority of the content of the Sefer. There’s the Holidays, the whole of parshas Kedoshim with so many different kinds of mitzvos. Acharei Mos with the story of Nadav and Avihu, and Tazria Metzora with many details of purity and impurity.

The common thread through all of the book is the magnificent holiness of the Jewish people. The korbanos are only one sub-theme of that. Vayikra is about what we are and who we are. The verse that keeps repeating itself is ‘V’hiskadishtem ki kadosh ani’, ‘You should make yourselves holy because I am holy’. That’s the motif, the focus of what we’re learning Vayikra for.

We want children’s first exposure to learning Torah to be about their specialness and how that should affect their decisions in life. We want to impress on our children, at this most impressionable of stages in life, that their core purpose is to be connected to their specialness and their magnificent holiness. Their kedusha. Despite the complexity of the details of bringing sacrifices, their status, in Gods eyes, should be their opening to the world of learning Torah.

That awareness of the centrality of Holiness in life can’t be allowed to die away. It needs to be part of our self image as Hashem’s children, that we’re here to make ourselves holy. It is unbecoming of us to give in to temptation.

And if we really see ourselves that way, we just can’t do something which isn’t right. It’s simply beneath us.