Harnessing the Animal
March 11, 2022
By Rus Devorah Wallen

I’m Rus Devorah Wallen, and I’d like to share my T for 2, my Torah thought for two minutes, more or less.

This week we open a new book of the Torah, Chumash Vayikra – Leviticus, which is the third book of the Chamisha Chumshei Torah – The Five Books of the Torah.  At the end of the previous Chumash – Shemos or Exodus, we learned about the construction of the Mishkan in the desert. In our parsha, Hashem is calling Moshe from the Mishkan to teach him the laws of the burnt offering or Olah – a voluntary offering. Then Moshe learns of the various types of voluntary and obligatory offerings such as the peace offering, sin, and guilt offerings.

We don’t currently have the tabernacle in the desert, nor do we have the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim. Since the Torah views the timing of things that coincide with each other to be Divinely orchestrated and related one to the other, the Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that we should learn a lesson from everything we see or hear or experience. As 21st-century, modern people, how can we apply these concepts of sacrificial offerings to our own lives? Jewish mysticism teaches us that each of us has an animal soul within us. It literally animates and invigorates us. The word Korban, sacrifice, comes from the same root as ‘karov’ which means close. The Korban functions as a means of getting close to Hashem.

The Parsha begins with Hashem saying, “Daber el b’nei Yisroel, v’omarto aleihem, Adam ki yakriv mikem korban Lashem, min ha b’heima, min habakar, u min ha tzon – “Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them, when a person among you brings a sacrifice to the Lord from the animals from the cattle or from the flock you should bring your sacrifice.” The grammatic structure is very strange. It says speak to the children of Israel, which is plural, then it goes to the singular when he is going to bring the offering, then it is in plural saying, “mikem – from all of you,” then it goes back to the singular Korban, an individual’s offering from the cattle or the flock. Then the end of the verse says you will all bring your sacrifices in the plural.

Today, how might we offer a “sacrifice” from our so called “herd” or “flock?” If we focus on our mundane and physical desires, needs, and lusts, we become dull and numb to higher, more lofty states.  From this perspective it is harder to be open and receptive to G-d consciousness. That’s why on fast days such as Yom Kippur, focused more on the spiritual than physical needs, we may be able to connect deeper to our spiritual core. Today when we do not have the sacrifices, we can still understand the basic principle of offering something to Hashem or to His world. The verse we mentioned above teaches us that all of us together need to make efforts as a community.  However, each of us has a unique animal soul that needs expression through dedication to creation.

According to Kabbalah we have a G-dly soul that reaches for the more sublime and the animal soul which is more focused on the mundane.  It is our job to elevate our earthly inclinations while awakening the G-dly part in us. This might mean fighting against an unhealthy urge or one that is not pro-social. Since we are all biopsychosocial spiritual individuals, the verse speaks to the individual person’s unique offering. So, the verse continues with, “from the animals, from the cattle or from the flock.” According to Kabbalah each soul or personality is unique.  One person might be docile like a lamb and someone else may be forceful and strong like an ox. Shlomo HaMelech says in Proverbs, “Rov t’vu’os b’koach shor – the multitude of the harvest is accomplished through the strength of an ox.” Imagine having a lamb or a kitten plow your field. This Shabbos, we read Parshas Zachor, which commands us to remember the Amalekites who attacked us after we left Egypt and to eradicate Amalek’s memory.  Symbolically, Amalek is in each of us as well, referring to the doubt and apathy that attacks each of us on the way. Interestingly, the gematria of Amalek is the same as the word ‘safeik’ or doubt. Each of us has a different energetic style. While wiping out the apathetic and doubtful part in us we can utilize the energy that is in our animal soul, whether we have the energy of the lamb or ox. The animal soul, in and of itself is necessary for our propulsion. The trick is how we yoke our animal, directing it to its optimal purpose that is what makes it a sacrifice. Each of us needs to, so to speak, domesticate our inner animal as an “offering.” The sacrifice refers to the efforts we make that go beyond a previous standard we’ve been used to, stretching.  With Hashem’s help, let us all find our inner engine and harness it devoting Hashem, His people, and the whole world.

Rus Devorah Wallen is an accomplished musician, performer, social worker, psychotherapist, and educator.

Harnessing the Animal - Jewish thought of the week graphic