1.

Following the latter parshiot of Chumash Shemot which discuss the building of the MishkanTabernacle — is Chumash Vayikra which discuss the various types of korbanot — offerings — that were made in it.

A common denominator among all animal offerings was that the blood and fats were brought up in the mizbei’ach — altar. As the Torah states explicitly “V’zarku et hadam al hamizbei’ach saviv” — “They shall throw its blood on the Altar all around” (1:5). Three pesukim afterward it says, “The sons of Aaron shall arrange the fats etc. on the mizbei’ach” (1:8).

What is the significance of offering the blood and the fats on the altar?

Blood symbolizes excitement, speed, activity, and mobility. Fat represents laziness, passivity, and inaction. Both characteristics serve an important purpose. One should be enthusiastic about doing a mitzvah or an act of kindness. On the other hand, one should be “lazy” and desist from doing something improper.

The Torah contains positive commandments and negative commandments. For the performance of a positive command­ment one should act with speed and excitement. When a person is tempted, G‑d forbid, to transgress a command of the Torah, he can avoid it by being “lazy” and inactive.

One who commits a transgression has apparently confused his priorities. In the case of the positive commandments that he neglected, he was lazy, and in the case of the negative that he violated, he acted with vigor. Placing the blood and fat on the altar acts as a reminder of the purpose that each trait serves and that each should be used as G‑d intended.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you may be wondering, “Currently, unfortunately, we have no Sanctuary and no offerings, so what is the relevance of all this to me?”

Every Jew has two rival powers in him. The Yeitzer Tov — Good Inclination and the Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination. One endeavors to draw you to study Torah and perform mitzvot and the other seeks to convince you to do the opposite.

The sad fact is that here, too, often man mixes up his priorities. He is lazy and cold when it comes to doing Hashem’s will — davening, learning and doing mitzvot — and is fully excited when it comes to pursuing worldly pleasures and enjoyments..

The message to you is the following:

When your Yeitzer Tov approaches you to go to daven, learn or do a good deed, take the “dam” — “blood” — attitude, and approach it with warmth, vigor and alacrity. On the other hand when the Yeitzer Hara calls on you, take the “cheilev” — “fat” — attitude, approach it with “laziness and lethargy.” Better yet, tell him you are busy with Torah and have no time for him.

Let me conclude with a little story about two words in the Yiddish language.

There are two words which are usually expressed both when doing a mitzvah or committing a transgression. The words are “ah” and “oy,” and which comes first and which afterwards depends on the status of the act.

A father woke his son early one cold winter morning to take him to the minyan. As the boy was getting out from under the blankets he cried, “Oy, it is cold!” After shul was over, his father asked him, “How do you feel now, Chaim?” To which the lad replied, “Ah, a mechayeh! I feel wonderful!” The father pointed his finger and said, “Chaim, let this experience be a lesson to you through all your life. When one performs a mitzvah, the ‘oy’ sometimes comes first and ‘ah’ comes afterward. But when one commits an aveirah, the order is reversed. ‘Ah, it is a mechayeh’ comes first, and ‘Oy, what did I need it for’ comes later.”

Be assured that if when the Yeitzer Hara approaches you to do something wrong, you tell him “Oy, I am sorry, I have no time now for you etc.” Ultimately, you will say “Ah, a mechayah, I am so happy I did not listen to him.”


2.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the third Rebbe in the Lubavitch dynasty known as the Tzemach Tzedek (1789-1866), was a grandson of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidut. His mother, Devorah Leah, died when he was a baby. Before her death her father promised her that he would raise the child.

The day after Yom Kippur 5553 (1792), the Rebbe prepared his grandchild for his first day of learning Torah. He davened early in the morning and read the portion of the week (Ha’azinu) with much emphasis on the pasuk, “He encircled him, He gave him the wisdom of Torah, He preserved him like the pupil of His eye” (32:10).

After davening, the Rebbe asked that the child be wrapped in a tallit and carried to the cemetery. Upon reaching his daughter’s grave, the Rebbe said loudly with great joy, Mazel Tov to you, Devorah Leah, daughter of Shterna. Today I bless him that just as he enters Torah, so he should enter chuppah and good deeds with long life.” Everyone present answered amein.”

When they returned home, the Rebbe asked the melamed (teacher) to learn the first parshah of Chumash Vayikra with his grandchild. When the melamed finished his lesson, the Rebbe told him to give the child honey cookies and a hard-boiled egg on which various pesukim were written.

The young child then asked his Zeide, “Why is the alef of ‘Vayikra’ written so small?” For a moment, the Rebbe concentrated deeply, and then he opened his eyes and said, “Adam was Hashem’s handiwork, and he was even wiser than the angels. However, Adam was smitten by the knowledge of his good qualities and therefore sinned.

Moshe Rabbeinu, though he was aware of the qualities Hashem had given him, did not become conceited. On the contrary, he humbly said to himself, ‘Another person, given the opportunity to ascend to heaven and talk to Hashem personally or given a neshamah such as mine, would have accomplished much more.’

“The letters of the ‘alef-beit occur in three sizes: large, medium and small. Because Adam was impressed with his own status as Hashem’s handiwork and his great qualities, his name is spelled with a large ‘alef’ in I Chronicles (1:1). Since Moshe was not impressed with his own greatness, but on the contrary he was humbled by it, the ‘alef’ is written small for him.”

Why is it customary for children to begin learning Chumash with Vayikra rather than Bereishit?

One reason is that little children are innocent and pure (tahor) and Chumash Vayikra discusses korbanot — sacrifices — which are pure and which restore spiritual purity (taharah) to a person. Therefore, it is fitting that young children should begin their education with the topic of purity (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3).

The famous Lubliner Rav, Rabbi Mayer Shapiro (1887-1933) founder of the Chachmei Lublin Yeshivah, Poland, gave an illuminating answer to why we start off children with Chumash Vayikra. The Chumash primarily discusses the different korbanot that the Jewish people were required to offer to Hashem. Teaching it to young children imparts a message to both parents and children.

Jewish parents are being told that they must make sacrifices so that their children may succeed in Torah study. They must forego lavish lifestyles to live in a way compatible with the Torah teachings their children are receiving, and they should be prepared to give up luxuries in order to pay tuition fees.

Jewish children must also know from the very beginning that sacrifice and dedication is a prerequisite for success in Torah study. One cannot just sit back and expect to learn without effort. A Torah student must always bear in mind the words of our Sages (Megillah 6b): “If someone tells you ‘I labored in the study of Torah, but did not succeed,’ do not believe him. If he tells you, ‘I have not labored in the study of Torah, yet I have succeeded,’ do not believe him. If, however, he tells you, ‘I have labored in the study of Torah and I have succeeded,’ believe him.” Only through diligent and assiduous study will one succeed.

Moreover, the youth is being told that throughout life as a Torah observant Jew he may encounter hardships and even persecution. Nevertheless, he should be ready to make sacrifices for Yiddishkeit, and ultimately, he will realize that his life will be meaningful and rewarding.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, fortunately you were blessed with parents who have had mesirut nefesh to educate and create a Torah atmosphere and environment for you and your siblings.

The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) says girsa deyankuta — what one studies during his early youth — is more enduring (Rashi). (There is also a version in Sefarim, “girsa deyakuta lo mishtaketcha” — is not forgotten.)

Hopefully, the first Torah lesson you received will remain with you throughout your life, and you will remain tenaciously attached to Hashem and His Torah, even if it should require sacrifices on your part.

Mazal Tov and hatzlachah rabbah — much success in this life mission.