Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Table Talk -- Vayikra 5767

Parshas Vayikra, which focuses primarily on issues relating to sacrifices, begins in a rather unusual manner. God tells Moshe that any person -- אדם -- "a man" who wishes to bring a sacrifice, תקריבו את קרבנכם -- "you shall bring close your offering." Why does the verse begin in the singular (אדם -- one man) but end in the plural (קרבנכם -- your sacrifices)?
Once the author of the Ollelos Ephraim, Rabbi Ephraim of Lunshitz, approached his local magistrate to make a request on behalf of the local Jewish community. Immediately, an anti-semitic priest demanded that the magistrate refuse the rabbi's request on the grounds that the Jews were bitter enemies of the non-Jewish population.
"That's a pretty strong accusation," the magistrate told him. "Do you have any proof?"
"Indeed I do, and the rabbi will back me up. Does it not say in the Talmud that the Jews are called אדם -- "a man" and the nations of the world are not called אדם. So if we're not men, we must be animals in the eyes of the Jews -- and they come to ask us for favors!?"
The rabbi smiled and explained: We find four words in the Hebrew language to refer to human beings: איש, גבר, אנוש and אדם. Each of those formulations can appear in plural form except for the word אדם. There is no Hebrew plural form for that word.
Therefore, in telling us that the nations of the world are not called אדם, our sages convey to us the diverse natures and interests of the different nations of the world. After all, Russia might have different priorities and interests than Italy. Yet, the Jewish people are אדם -- a single unified people. Even when they come from different places and speak different languages, they still remain united and care for one another. When one Jew suffers anywhere in the world, every other Jew suffers with him.
The magistrate smiled and turned to his priest. "Indeed," he said, "see how true the rabbi's words are! For he comes before me for his fellow Jews, and not for his own personal benefit."