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Are You a Bull Or a Lamb?

Are You a Bull Or a Lamb?

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Not only animal-rights groups have difficulty with this week’s Parshah; many if not most people in our modern era have a problem with the whole concept of animal sacrifice, which is a major theme of the third book of the Torah, Leviticus.

But I have no wish to enter into a rationalization of biblical morality. The second verse in the book lends itself to some interesting homiletic interpretation, which makes it quite clear that the Torah’s focus on sacrifice is not so much on the animal on the altar as on the person who is offering it:

When a man (adam) will bring an offering from among you to G‑d, from the animals, from the cattle or from the flock shall you bring your offering. (Leviticus 1:2)

Now, clearly, the language here is rather strained. In fact, most translators have edited the text to read more smoothly: “When a man among you will bring an offering,” clearly an improvement in the flow of the verse.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in his classic Likkutei Torah, insists however that the Torah’s syntax is deliberate. “When a man will bring an offering”—i.e., he will want to come closer to G‑d (the Hebrew word korban has in it the root karav, “to come close”), then he must know that the offering must come “from you,” from the animal within you.

Every one of us possesses animalistic tendencies, and these must be consumed on the altar of G‑d. We are obliged to slay our inner animal, and humanize ourselves by working on developing our character traits, until the beast within us has been neutralized—and better yet, sanctified.

What exactly does this mean? The verse continues, “from the cattle or from the flock, shall you bring your offering.” An individual may behave like “cattle,” a goring bull, trampling on everyone and everything in its way. He is the proverbial bull in a china closet, stomping, aggressive, bullying, domineering, and utterly insensitive to people’s feelings.

Others might be like “the flock”—the meek little lamb that timidly follows the crowd. He has no opinion of his own; whatever the last person he spoke to said becomes his opinion for the moment. He has no backbone, no sense of self or self-respect. He stays with the flock at all costs, lest he be labeled a “black sheep.”

Still others might be moody and temperamental, changing colors and character traits from day to day. One minute they might be like the raging bull, and the next, the docile lamb.

So the Torah teaches us to be adam, a human being of human—indeed, G‑dly—character. Be a man, not an ox; a lady, not a lamb. Be a mentsch; behave like a mature, refined person, not like a vilde chayah (wild animal). Examine your own behavioral tendencies; check out your inner feelings and dispositions. Are you satisfied with yourself as a human being? Are those around you happy, or do you intimidate them with your temper tantrums? Are you mature and mild-mannered, or do you suffer from road rage?

Searching our souls and our inner psyches for unacceptable behaviors, and then doing something about it, is what we mean when we say to bring the animal up on the altar of sacrifice. It is the animal within each of us. The true and ultimate sacrifice is the sacrificing of self.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn, New York. In 1976 he was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul since 1986, president of the South African Rabbinical Association, and a frequent contributor to Chabad.org. His book From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading was recently published by Ktav, and is available at Jewish bookshops or online.
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Deborah Porter Southport, UK via lubavitchliverpool.com March 19, 2015

Brilliant, thank you! Reply

Anonymous Australia March 16, 2013

Thank you very deep and inspiring. Reply

Anonymous March 16, 2013

Dr. Kolet, don't deny your sub-human instincts, just anoint them with a douche of innocence. Reply

Sandra Greenbaum March 16, 2013

I am Both, depending on what i feel the situation calls for. I have to be both--i am a mother....if your child runs into the street where motor traffic is, you don't say "please, come back here."" You RUN and you YELL to the child. You grab him out of harms way!! Then, i am a BULL. But, when i put my child to bed, i sing him lullabies, read him stories---say prayers and "Pleasant dreams". Then i am a lamb. Reply

Sarah New Jersey March 14, 2013

I feel I am just beginning and this was very helpful to me because I am a bullike lamb in a lot of ways. Sick of it. Thank you! You saved my soul, lol! Reply

katrin p. Germany March 14, 2013

Just a friendly reminder to all converts. One day we will all have to bring an animal sacrifce. I'ma vegetarian because I cannot eat animals - I love them too much. I also like what Anonymous wrote. My rabbit was spoiled rotten. I did everything for her, and yet I was always afraid of maybe not being able to understand all of her needs and wishes. When the temple will be rebuild, we will have to bring an animal sacrifice, there's no way around it. This is the only thing I dread. Reply

Dr. Moses Kolet Mumbai, India March 14, 2013

Shalom,
I appreciate the novel and extremely relevent interpretation. I could identify myself with the article. How do we come out of the situation? Reply

Charlotte Currens Maricopa Az. USA March 13, 2013

Thankyou!!
Now I have a better understanding of this passage and to learn to identify the animal within me. Gives me something to think about.

Happy Passover. Reply

Deborah Porter UK via lubavitchliverpool.com March 30, 2017
in response to Charlotte Currens:

Very helpful, thank you Rabbi. Reply

Steph March 13, 2013

Shalom Rabbi, I am not Jewish, but I have relatives who are, I have great respect for the Jewish culture and beliefs. Sometimes I celebrate Jewish holidays (mainly because I just think the Jewish religion is cool) With all of that said, I am a vegan, I really wish instead of the animal offering maybe zucchini could be given as an offering instead. It's still in keeping with your teaching, I don't usually feel like a bull or a lamb, but I do feel like a couch potato sometimes. Happy Passover :) Reply

Anonymous March 12, 2013

I'd say after examining myself, and looking at what life has been like so far, understanding myself and other human beings, this article contains amazing insight. Thank you Rabbi. Reply

Eula Bunting RFD, IL USA March 12, 2013

I find myself in this article quite clearly. There is no denying road rage and it even scares me what I say and feel as I am driving because I get so irrational in my anger! Dare to cut me off or get to close to my rear and there is no telling what I might do! Or Say about you and your whole family. I find no reason for this anger and I find the only cure for it is prayer and listening to my favorite gospel music helps me to stay grounded instead of going into myself again like a bullet going off. POWWWW!!! I am in a rage again and almost out of control. I understand why the men who started shooting people in their cars and that is difficult to say in this comment. Am I by myself in this, really? I need help with this and there is no denying that . G-d help my with this rage. Amen. Reply

Anonymous March 12, 2013

An animal is considered inferior to humans because the humans cannot understand the animal. When a bull acts out in rage, it does so to protect its territory and for survival. A bull would never attack a living being for no reason however, a human would. Reply

Irene Glen Bunie, MD USA March 11, 2013

Shalom Rabbi:

Your article was quite interesting. Never thought about our having an animal nature.

Thank you for sharing this lesson.

Blessings from our G-d be upon you this and every day. Reply

STEVE ROTH MULLICA HILL, NJ/USA via jewishphilly.com March 15, 2010

Yes I agree, it has given me a better understanding of some of the sacrifices, but killing a bird by using your finger to split the back of its head open, please tell me what do we learn from doing that? i understand a lot of what you have written but i cannot fathom a reason for doing that to a bird. please, help me to understand. Reply

Rivka Bunnickstein Mexico March 19, 2007

Thanks for all these words of knowledge. Many of my friends (including myself), find very intricate the whole Vayikra book, all about the sacrifices of the animals regarding certain sins. This article has brought a lot of light to my mind and has helped me to have a deeper perspective of the Mitzvot included in this Torah book. Toda Rabba Rabbi Goldman! Reply