Bring Down the Temperature

While the opening parashiyot of Vayikra speak of the laws and specifics of the korbanot (sacrifices), the opening pesukim of the book focus on the details of the korban olah, the “elevation” sacrifice. Rav Hirsch comments that the offering’s name – olah – accurately reflects its purpose, which is to raise the one who brings it from sinfulness to spiritual cleanliness.  

Notably, such an olah was brought by one who had transgressed in only a few, proscribed ways – by intentionally committing a sin for which the Torah does not provide a punishment, for failing to observe a positive mitzvah (mitzvat aseh), for sinful thoughts or even to seek just to raise one’s spiritual level. The olah was to be consumed entirely by the fire, sending the totality of the sacrifice up into the air in plumes of smoke; the sinfulness, like the smoke, lifted from the sinner.

The olah is not offered merely for wrongful acts, but also for hirhur ha’lev – contemplation of the heart. The Yerushalmi (in Yoma 8:7) teaches that the olah brings about “expiation/atonement” for thoughts of the heart, suggesting that to be spiritually elevated, one must be rid not only of active sins, but of sins of the heart and mind as well.

The olah may be brought from cattle, from “the flock” (tzon) – sheep, goats, or from fowl. If offered from fowl, Vayikra (1:14) tells us that the olah may be brought min ha’torim o’ min bnei ha’yona – from either turtledoves (torim) or from another type of dove. Further, turtledoves may be offered after becoming mature – as indicated by the glistening sheen of the feathers around the neck – but, notably, these other doves may be used only when they are young.

Ramban explains that these types of fowl can be used because they are readily accessible and easy to catch (metzu’yin u’krovin l’hitafes). In this, he is clearly correct. However, the choice of the olah fowl certainly convey a deeper lesson than just their accessibility. The further stipulation having to do with the maturity of the fowl directs us to this deeper lesson. If given a choice between an olah of mature torim, turtledoves, or the younger bnei yonah, the torim are preferred.

What does this preference teach us – about the olah and about ourselves?

Ramban states clearly that the reason for the preference comes down to faithfulness and commitment – ba’avur perishusam v’hidabkam. Once a turtledove mates, he remains true; he never seeks another mate for the remainder of his life. In fact, his devotion remains true even if his mate dies; still he will not mate with another. Ramban sees in this absolute fidelity the relationship of the Jewish people to HaShem. We cling to God forever, never contemplating any other form of worship.

And yonim – regular doves? They are forbidden as an olah because they are excessively jealous (kaanaim). The Ramban teaches us that, due to this jealousy, they possess no true commitment. Such a fowl, when he sees his mate ‘flirting’ with another, promptly leaves and finds a new mate.

Therefore, God prefers the young, immature dove as an offering. He has not yet found a mate, and so, “…is attached with greater love to the nest where it is reared than are all other fowl.” In other words, he still holds loyalty and commitment in his heart. Ibn Ezra teaches that this is the reason that the posuk specifies bnei ha’yonah – the younger ones – and not yonim – the gedolim, the older ones.

Yonim fly off at the merest hint of flirting. They have no loyalty. Ramban calls them kaanaim me’od, very jealous.

Kanaus, the term we use to denote “jealousy”, is also defined as “zealotry” or extremism. Even more than the damage jealousy might cause, we are only too familiar with the upheaval zealotry can bring about. Sadly, we see examples of such zealotry all around us. Whether in “personal expression”, politics, art, music or religion, we seem to be overrun by people who live “at the edges”. Our domestic lives have been uprooted by white supremacists, domestic terrorists, even as we have witnessed the world roiled by extremists in the Middle East, the Far East, and in Europe.

While secular religion (pan-Arabism, communism, partisan politics, etc.) can sometimes lead to extremism, often it is faith itself that opens the door to real zealotry. After all, if the Creator of All asks something of us, can there be any limit to how we should respond? Should there be?

Although some religions embrace zealotry, traditionally Judaism has tended to turn away from such extreme passions. And yet, from Jerusalem to Brooklyn, kaanaus has become the name of the game in approach, ideology, methodology and speech.

What has happened to us that we have become inured to critical, harsh, unbending and unforgiving actions affecting every aspect of Jewish life? From whence comes this harshness? How have we all become primed for such “righteous” anger?

We live in a blessed, glorious time of Jewish renaissance – with yeshivot and Torah learning thriving, massive kosher supermarkets rooting observant communities, streets defined by stately synagogues and homey shtiebels. And yet, a derech that was unknown to us as we grew up has taken hold of hearts and minds. We knew homes totally committed to everything Jewish and halachic as prescribed by Shulchan Aruch and Mesorah while still participating in the benefits and goodness available in society at large; homes where there were no color distinctions among Yidden; homes where the black hat was not standard, but where gray hats and straw hats after Memorial Day was the norm. We were devout and loving Jews, more focused on what was under the hat and within the heart than the garb one wore...

Looking at these yonim it certainly doesn’t appear that their kanaus is to be admired. We don’t offer mature yonim as korbanot because their character is flawed. Kanaus is not to be tolerated in God’s Home, unless fully sanctioned by God Himself. If not, kanaus/jealousy is abhorred and rejected.

We know how to recognize the kaanaim in our midst. They are most often loud-mouths, rabble rousers, and hypocrites. They try to hide their personal agendas which are totally unrelated to the well-being of the community. They are angry. They pose no rational plans or approaches.

In other words, as Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky explains, they are precisely what the Ramban meant when he spoke of the “jealous dove.” This jealous dove turns on his mate over perceived infidelity and then switches to mate with a dove who seemingly has been another dove’s mate. What does this say? The jealous dove was all worked up about his mate’s ‘flirting’ and now he takes another dove’s mate as his own!  What a hypocrite! What a phony!

This is the very definition of kanaus, rooted in personal anger and jealousy, having little to do with morals or genuine ethics.  

Zealotry, Rabbi Frand correctly notes, must be rooted in intellect, knowledge, sechel and not simply in anger and emotion.

We see this jealousy echoed in the Torah when Shimon and Levi responded with anger and emotion to their sister Dinah’s abuse by the city Shechem. In reaction, they wiped out the entire city, claiming that such “shall not be done in Israel.”

And Yaakov Avinu’s response? “Cursed be their anger for it is violent.” (Bereishit 49:7) Theirs was kanaus divorced from logic, intellect, halachic guidance and p’sak. Such kanaus will never endure, not even for children of Yaakov Avinu.

Eventually, when descending to Egypt, Levi reevaluated his heart and focused his talents, abilities and attributes to the study of Torah. His tribe shone with the finest and best, with by Amram, Moshe and Aharon – all descendants of Levi. His example shows that kanaus, when honestly dissected and evaluated, can turn anger and wild emotion into constructive teaching and inspiration.  When the Golden Calf threw the nation into havoc and despair, and Moshe was seeking to salvage and find solace, he cried out, “He who is for God, come to me!” (Shemot 32:36)

Who responded first? None other than the tribe of Levi who, by their forebears’ example, demonstrated that zealotry/kanaus can never be a lifelong “career”. It is, at best, a momentary lapse of judgment and sechel, a moment of hysteria... Levi and his tribe, understood that their lapse in Shechem should not, could not and need not be a lifelong perversion of truth.

Shimon, his partner in Shechem, sadly never got the memo. He clung to his kanaus, even to the point of challenging Moshe’s authority. That’s right, the open rebellion against Moshe was organized by Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Shimon. His rebellion was rooted in jealousy, emotion, anger, personal agenda – everything but Torah law, ethics and morals.

A simple distinction in a permissible fowl to use in the korban olah. Who could have thought that it could grant us such powerful insight into our difficult human nature and teach us a lesson of truth, loyalty and judgment?