| Parshah |

Parshas Vayikra: Animal Farm

Our chief task in life is to challenge our own inner animal, every day anew

“…When a man from you brings a sacrifice to Hashem…” (Vayikra 1:2)


he Torah’s focus on animal sacrifices is enigmatic. How do these many laws guide us in our life’s journeys?
Truthfully, every law and episode recorded in the Torah may be appreciated, not only from a physical and concrete perspective, but also from a metaphysical angle. While animal sacrifices don’t relate to us physically in our present age, on a psychological and spiritual level, the laws relate a timeless message for human challenge and growth (Rabbi YY Jacobson, theYeshiva.net).

It had been raining for a week, but the skies had cleared for a few hours on this wintry Friday morning in Beit Chilkia. We’d be spending a family Shabbos on the moshav, and the kids were clamoring to visit the local petting zoo. Braving the muddy paths and strong winds, I traipsed along, making the acquaintance of sheep, goats, mules, horses, dogs, and cats — a menagerie of mud-speckled creatures, some caged, others wandering contently alongside their human visitors.

Every human being possesses an animal consciousness within him. This dimension of our identity is self-oriented and self-absorbed, and its exclusive quest in life is self-preservation and gratification. In short: “What’s in this for me?”
In stark contrast to this conspicuous layer of self, lays a deeper dimension of a G-dly consciousness, a yearning to transcend the self and to connect with the ultimate truth. This inherent dichotomy gives rise to the perpetual struggle existing in the human psyche.
Each soul was given a “custom-made” animal consciousness as its special pupil for their years together on earth. The Divine soul is charged with the mission of educating and sublimating the animal self, of actualizing its latent potential. When the G-dly soul fails to perform its task of cultivating and educating its animal-student, the animal self can become a dangerous force. What was once a little, cute animal existing in our heart may turn into an undomesticated wild beast that’s coarse, profane, and destructive.

One of the older kids immediately wanted to ride a horse. Yitzi adopted a midget of a dog, claiming it was “so cute.” (He doesn’t get that from me.) Shloime was fascinated by a peacock, and my grandson was fascinated by the puddles, making sure he stomped in each one.

This explanation sheds light on the Torah’s emphasis on animal offerings. Our chief task in life is to challenge our own inner animal, every day anew, bringing it one step closer to our higher, deeper self and to the G-dly space within us.
So for those of us who struggle with such animal-like aspects as laziness, anger, self-centeredness, addiction, depression, apathy, and dishonesty, the laws of animal offerings provide a written plan for corralling those impulses, breaking their wildness and converting them to a G-dly use. By doing so, we take our animal personality and bring it closer to the higher truth.

Despite the frigid air that still managed to carry the pungent smells, I was determined to be a cheery companion. “If you could be any animal, which animal would you be?” I asked the kids.

“This dog’s friend,” Yitzi promptly answered. They were clearly kindred spirits.

“I’d be a lion,” thundered Shloime, baring his teeth.

My grandson gleefully found a new puddle and declared he’d be a fish.

“Me? I’ve always thought I’d make a good cat,” I mused. “I’d purr, sleek and clean from head to tail, and sit in the warm sun, peaceful and pampered.”

“A cat?” Shloime gagged. “Cats live in garbage cans!”

“In America they don’t,” I countered, getting into the spirit.

“If you were a cat and I were this dog, I’d have to chase you.” Yitzi didn’t seem sure how he felt about that.

Honestly, I didn’t feel so sure about my self-transformation either. If I were a cat, would that make me aloof, snobby, and self-centered like cats usually are? If I were a peacock, would that make me arrogant?

I already battle a sloth-like exhaustion most days that leads to a need to curb crabby tendencies. And don’t get me started on having a cow. With all the animal traits I already need to work on, why add to that?

“I’d rather just stay me,” I concluded.

“Me, too.” Yitzi looked relieved. Being an aggressive dog isn’t his thing.

“Not me!” roared Shloime. “I still want to be a lion!”

Yikes. What does that make him?


 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 886)

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