Divrei Torah About Inclusion: Sefer Vayikra
Parshat Vayikra talks about the sacrifices, korbanot, that the Cohen must do in the Mishkan for the people of Israel. The korbanot that are spoken about include the Korban Chatat. TheTorah is speaking about the communal sacrifice that is done when the nation sins. The question can be asked, why does the Cohen need to perform this sacrifice if he didn’t sin? We learn from this that we are all responsible for each other. We need to work as a whole nation, even if it does not directly involve us. Here the Cohen takes the responsibility on himself to ask Hashem to forgive Bnei Yisroel. We as Klal Yisroel should take this initiative as well and be available to help and be responsible for anyone who is part of our community, whether abled or disabled. By doing this we will be able to continue to follow the Torah and be a holy nation to Hashem.
Parshat Tzav discusses the laws that are given to Aharon and his sons in the Mishkan. It discusses how the fire of the mizbayach is always lit in the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash. It is the responsibility of the Cohanim to ensure that the light is kept lit. By doing so they ensure that the mizbayach is always ready for a sacrifice when it is brought. At the end of the parsha, we learn about the process of how Moshe anoints Aharon to be a cohen. Aharon and his sons have been chosen by Hashem for this task. It is not simply given to anyone- they are chosen. We too are chosen by Hashem to be part of Klal Yisroel. Hashem chooses all of the members of our community, no matter their talents or challenges. The key is that they are all equal in Hashem’s eyes. We too are all equal in Hashem’s eyes and therefore must accept everyone as equals as well. By doing this we will build a strong Am Yisroel, b’yachad.
In Parshat Shmini we learn that Aharon begins to sacrifice the korbanot to Hashem. Whiel the korbonot were sacrificed, the Leviim led Bnei Yisroel in songs and prayer. This is the beginning of the establishment of the daily tephillah that we still do today. We are all led by the leader of the congregation and everyone prays together- young, old, men, women, abled, and disabled. Everyone is part of the one tephillah service, b’yachad. The Torah describes that after Aharon performs the sacrifice, he raises his hands in the air and the people rejoice. When they see Aharon’s hands in the air, they look towards the heavens and remember Hashem. They are rejoicing because they are thankful for all of the blessings that Hashem gives us. As we daven, we should also be looking towards the heavens and remembering Hashem and his brachot. Perhaps His biggest bracha is the one of uniting us b’yachad and allowing us to become one Klal Yisroel. As we daven and listen to the reading of the Torah, let us make a pledge to think consciously about the goodness of Hashem and about how we are all part of the greater Klal which includes all individuals.
Parshat Tazria speaks about the illness of Tzaraat, loosely translated as Leporasy. The skin on the person turns white and the person needs to purify himself. But why would a person get this disease to start with? We learn that Miriam in the Torah contracted Tzaraat because she spoke lashon haraah against Moshe Rabbeynu. It is the act of speaking badly about another person that Hashem and the Torah sees fit to punish in such a severe matter. In fact, the person is removed from Klal Yisroel for 7 days until he heals. This should be a lesson for us all to guard against speaking evil about anyone. NO one is better than anyone else, no one has a higher regard in Hashem’s eyes, and therefore we too should not look at someone as less than us. We need to remember to speak well of others and accept everyone as we would want ourselves to be accepted. Only this way will we build a strong, united Klal Yisroel.
Parshat Metzora continues the discussion of being afflicted with Tzaraat. But here, the Torah goes further and teaches us that not only can a person get the disease, but also a piece of clothing and even the house where the person lives. If this happens the clothes and the house must be burned and destroyed. If the spreading of lashon harah, speaking evil against your fellow man, is so bad, it penetrates everything that you come into contact with and cannot be cured unless it is all destroyed. Speaking evil does not just affect the speaker or the person being spoken about. It is ingrained into the very core of the community. As the evil words spread, the entire community can be caught up in thinking badly and judging a person. This is the power of the spoken word. It is so easy to think that we are greater than another person, to think less of the person, and to speak these thoughts out loud. But the Torah teaches us that we need to be careful what we think and what we say. When the evil gets started in a community, it is so difficult to stop it from spreading and becoming a “truth”. When we look at individuals, abled and disabled, we need to be careful to guard our tongues (as the Rambam says) and look for the good in each person. By recognizing the positives and good in all people, we will then be able to recognize the value of every person that is part of Klal Yisroel.
In Parshat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim we learn about the mitzvah of kilayim, intertwining forbidden products. We are told not to mix two different types of trees, two different types of seeds, two different types of animals, each with the purpose of forming a new third product. So an apricot and a plum cannot be mixed to form a plumcot (ask your local rabbi for the halachah). The most familiar type of kilayim is shatnez, the prohibition to mix wool and linen. So stop. Why am I talking about prohibitions of mixing-doesn’t that seem to be opposite of inclusion-mixing all people together? The Torah teaches us that while these mixtures are usually forbidden they become mitzvoth under the correct circumstances. We see a few instances where we mix items to form the mitzvah. The most common is with the tzitzit. We bind and know techelet and wool together to form the strings of the tzitzit. These strings remind us of all 613 mitzvoth that we must observe. The idea is to use the binding for the correct purpose- to do a mitzvah.
Aharon’s two sons are killed because they were trying to do a mitzvah but not at the right time or with the right meaning. They are punished for not following the path of Hashem.
When we look at our community we need to remember to include everyone as part of Klal Yisroel- for the correct reasons. To bring all of the Jewish people closer to Hashem and to fulfill his mitzvoth. As long as we include through Hashem’s path then the binding of all people, able or challenged, is loved in the eyes of Hashem.
In Parshat Emor we can find a few elements to learn about accepting every Jew. The first place we see this theme is when the Torah speaks about the Chaggim, specifically Succot. We are commanded to take four species and put them together when we do the mitzvah of lulav. We take the Lulav, the Etrog, the haddassim (myrtle) and the arovot (willows). The rabbis teach us that each of these represent a different type of person. Each person is important to complete the mitzvah. But only when the four parts of the mitzvah are put together to form the lulav bundle can one perform the mitzvah. Likewise only when all types of people are together as one group can they follow the Torah and perform the mitzvot of Hashem.
Further we read about forming of the menorah. We learn that the menorah has 7 distinct branches. Each branch is an integral part of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah. Earlier in the ATorah we learned that the menorah was made from one piece of gold. So even though there are disctint parts of the menorah, it still comes from the same base- the same root. We as the Jewihs people must recognize that we are comprised of many different types of people but are all from the same creator, the same root. Only by combining to form one people can we be a strong nation under the eyes of Hashem. Celebrate the aboilities and talents of each individual within your community.
This week we read the Parshiot of Bhar-Bechukatai. We read about yovel, the fiftieth year of planting and harvesting the land of Israel. The Jews are commanded to count 7 times 7 years (each seventh being a shimitah year) and afterward the 50th year is yovel, the jubilee year. During this year land is given back, slaves are set free, and so forth. During the year of yovel, no one is allowed to toil the land- indeed the land is communal and everyone has equal rights to it. In this way we are told that everyone is dependent on everyone else. Despite a person’s richness, talent, or ability, everyone must help each other. We learn to take the talents of each individual and use it for the good of the entire nation of Israel.
What better message of inclusion. Take the talent of each person, the ability of each person, and strengthen Klal Yisroel by working together, B’Yachad. Together we please Hashem and Hashem says that then Hashem will dwell among the people of Israel, his holy nation. Take this message with you when you look at each person that you come into contact with and celebrate each person’s individual ability and talent.