| Parshah |

Community Service

The severity of denying the community positive influences


“Any man from Bnei Yisrael who slaughters an ox, lamb, or goat… outside the camp and does not bring it… as a korban to Hashem in the Mishkan… it should be considered for that man as if he shed blood and he should be cut off from among his people.” (Vayikra 17:3-4)

The Midrash states that this transgression of shechutai chutz — slaughtering an animal outside the Mishkan — is akin to murder.

How could this act, however insulting it might be to Hashem, be equal in severity to taking a human life?

Furthermore, Targum Yonasan explains that this transgression is as if he had shed the blood of a tzaddik — even worse than ordinary murder.

This compounds our question. If in fact the sin of shechutai chutz is as severe as murder, then the punishment for it should be hereg, execution by sword, since that’s the punishment for murder. Yet instead, the punishment is kareis — shortening of life. Why?

(Rav Dovid Hofsdedter, Dorash Dovid)

I remember when you were born. That’s gotta be one of the most teeth-grinding social inanities around. But the line popped into my head when I got an email asking if I wanted to place a dinner journal ad in honor of a previous student of mine. How had Tova become old enough to be an honoree?

I’d babysat her until her family moved across town. Then one bright September I walked into my seventh grade Navi class and there was Tova, braces and all, grinning in the front row. Moving on through high school, Tova remained one of my favorite students. But then I got married and moved away, taking with me the sweetest parting note penned by Tova.

Yet our paths were destined to cross again. Several years later she was sitting in my seminary classroom, sans braces, but with the same eager grin. Thursday afternoons found us in my kitchen deep in potatoes and philosophy.

We must understand that when someone murders a tzaddik, his sin is twofold. Not only does he rob the victim of his life, he also robs the generation of the protective merits of that tzaddik. The entire generation is the victim of his crime.

Similarly, when someone commits the sin of shechutai chutz, he’s not guilty for having killed an animal, as that’s not murder. However, he’s harmed all of Klal Yisrael: This animal was supposed to have been a korban, which would have atoned for the whole generation’s sins. The whole generation is the victim, just as with the murder of a tzaddik.

Toward Purim, I noticed Tova seemed a bit distracted. We were filling mishloach manos bags, when she suddenly asked, “How do you decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life?”

I glanced around. The ribbons strewn across the table, costumes piled on the couch, and music blaring in the background seemed incongruous with the seriousness of Tova’s question.

But serious topics deserved serious attention. So later that evening, we sat on my mirpeset to tackle Tova’s dilemma.

“I’ve been trying to fill out applications for college. My whole life I’d known I’d become an actuary and go into my father’s firm. But lately I’ve been thinking…” she blushed and began playing with a piece of ribbon, “what I really want to do is teach.

“I don’t want to become an actuary. I want to work with people, to impact their minds and their lives. How can numbers compare to that? One’s finite, one’s infinite.” Her voice was strong and impassioned.

Now we can also understand why his punishment is kareis. Because he denied the world the influence of the korban, he himself is denied the opportunity to continue influencing the world.

This halachah demonstrates to us the severity of denying the community positive influences. In the Torah’s eyes, depriving a generation of positive influences that can benefit the public’s spiritual growth, like those of a tzaddik’ s presence or a korban’s atonement, is akin to murder.

Like most things in life, Tova solved her immediate dilemma with a compromise. She enrolled in college while teaching part-time. But by the end of her first year, it was clear where her heart lay. Her BA in mathematics is currently collecting dust as she captures minds and souls.

I clicked open the email and studied the list of honorees. Tova Keller, Educator of the Year. Everyone grows up, but some people achieve eternal growth.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 690)

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