Friday, January 25, 2008

a meal of korbanos or simple bread - a lesson in kedusha from Yisro

Administrative note: I’m going to be away from my computer for the first few days of next week, so no postings.

Yisro rejoins Moshe and “Vayikach Yisro chotein Moshe olah u’zevachim l’Elokim”, he offers a korban olah and other korbanos; the pasuk continues, “VaYavo Ahron v’kol ziknei yisrael l’echol lechem im chotein Moshe lifnei haElokim,” Ahron and the rest of the elders joined Yisro to eat bread.

The Radomsker (Tiferes Shlomo) notes that the pasuk’s opening sets our expectation for a banquet of korban meat to be served, yet it seems Yisro was joined by Ahron only for a simple meal of bread. It’s almost like the frum Jew at the office party who takes the fruit plate and ignores the steak dinner everyone else is eating. Was there something wrong with the korbanos that caused the switch to bread, or is there something else going on here?

The danger in making the sort of life-changing commitment Yisro undertook is that a person may whiplash from one extreme to another. I don’t need to point to the not-uncommon image of the ba’al tshuvah who one day is clothed in T-shirt and spiked hair and overnight is found wearing bekeshe, beard and peyos. I can even point to my own world, as my son, who had once been an avod reader, now scarcely opens a book as his immersion in gemara has increased. This is the world of “olah u’zevachim l’Elokim”, where one’s only desire is for dveikus and spirituality, where fulfillment comes through separating from the mundane, rejecting the world of the past, and clinging only to pure holiness.

Ahron and the Zekeinim did not hesitate to join Yisro, but their meal had a different flavor. A person is simply deluding him/herself if he/she thinks life will be an endless stream of uninterrupted “olah u’zevachim”. The challenge a Yisro must eventually confront is how to remain engaged in that high level of spiritual commitment even while eating mundane bread, “le’echol lechem”, while engaged in the daily routine. It is almost ironic that Ahron haKohein, perhaps the paradigm of a person whose life was dedicated to avodas hakorbanos, here sits down davka to eat bread, as if to underscore to Yisro that he too, despite his lofty role and position, remains a simple man of bread.

The Radomsker notes, the eating of “lechem” is described as “lifnei haElokim”, suggesting an even higher level than the korbanos offered “l’Elokim”. The ability to remain engaged in a life of kedusha even while baking the bread or making the donuts on a daily basis is perhaps a far greater achievement than withdrawal into the cocoon of korbanos. It is a challenging lesson to absorb.


  1. Anonymous3:56 PM

    I heard a cute Thought The reason it seems that we are responsibile for Kibbud Av is because of Hakoros Hatov If that is so we got a problem "Tov Lo Lodom Shelo Bara"
    your parents caused you to be created!!???

  2. You mean the only hakaras hatov is for bringing you into the world, not for raising you once you got here?