Avoiding Yohara – Tzav 5783

D'var Torah | Leviticus

The challenge in reading the detailed descriptions of the rituals regarding sacrifices is to find within them some meaningful insights that transcend the rituals that are no longer practiced. Those who succeed find the exercise rewarding. Those who fail, tend to condemn the text as irrelevant. It is in this context an analysis of Leviticus 6:2 is in order.

The Torah says: “…the burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned on the altar all night until morning…” The instructions are clear, precise, and seemingly inconsequential. But Midrash Tanhuma (Tzav 2) reads the text differently. The subject is not the burnt offering (‘olah, in Hebrew) but any person who arrogantly raises her/himself over others. The Midrash can make this claim because the Hebrew word ‘olah comes from the root meaning “to rise.” Accordingly, Tanhuma states: “The Holy One blessed be He said: Any one who aggrandizes himself will end up going to the fire, for it is said, that is the ‘olah: on the fire. That is to say, a person who puts on airs ought to be severely punished.

The Talmud (Pesahim 66b) similarly warns: “A wise person who puts on airs will lose his/her wisdom.” The Aramaic term for what the ancient Greeks called hubris is “yohara.” It is a character flaw and plays out in a variety of ways. For example, behaving in a way that differs from the conventionally accepted in order to express additional piety is condemnable. Standing for a prayer that is ordinarily recited while seated is an illustration. Adopting a stringency in Jewish practice that is not generally observed is, according to the Responsa of the Ge’onim, another example. Jewish practice is not intended to police conformity but to restrict arrogance. Jews should not be trying to outdo one another but to harmoniously cooperate in living in accord with the mitzvot.

Here is a fine instance demonstrating that a careful reading of even an obscure text can yield a profound lesson.



Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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