Realistic expectations: Parshat Vayikra

One might think that in our day, thousands of years after the Temple’s destruction, Leviticus might be considered irrelevant.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This week, we start reading the book of Leviticus (Vayikra), the third of the five books of the Torah. Leviticus is also termed the “Torah of the Kohanim (Priests)” since its main content focuses on the halachot (Jewish laws) pertaining to the work of the kohanim in the Temple.
One might think that in our day, thousands of years after the Temple’s destruction, Leviticus might be considered irrelevant.
But when one reads and looks at what it contains, we find both obvious and hidden lessons that relate to every person in every time and place. This phenomenon teaches us that there is nothing in the Torah which is irrelevant. There is always something to learn with implications for different situations, and general lessons to learn from halachot dealing with a specific and focused area.
Thus, for example, we can look at this week’s Torah portion – Parshat Vayikra. We read about the korban chatat (the “sin offering”) brought to the Temple by a person who sinned. This sacrifice is unique in that it is oleh v’yored (“goes up and down”), meaning it can be brought in a number of levels based on the financial situation of the person who sinned. A man whose financial state is strong must bring an animal sacrifice; a man whose financial situation is weak must bring a sacrifice of two birds; while a man whose financial state is so weak that even two birds are beyond his reach must bring a “mincha,” meaning a small amount of wheat flour, and with this he is atones for his sin.
Beyond the explicitly written halacha, practiced of course only when the Temple is standing, this halacha offers us a moral which can guide us in every aspect of our lives.
We all tend to equate people and to look at everyone from the same perspective.
This basic instinct causes us to think that when we have a certain obligation it is also everyone else’s. At first glance, it is hard to categorize people and internalize the fact that each of us is obligated to do different things based on ability. The principle we learn from the laws of korban chatat oleh v’yored is that this is not so.
We must look at each person from a perspective pertaining specifically to him.
Often we have expectations of ourselves or of the society around us to contribute to and invest in positive endeavors. There is a space for such expectations, and it indeed motivates many people to act in a beneficial way. But there is a danger inherent in this as well, since every person is different and each person has different emotional, physical and financial abilities. It would be a mistake if we were to expect everyone to act exactly as we would act in a similar situation.
It is a mistake since no one is exactly like us and others’ abilities are different.
Expectations should be based on a realistic view of the other’s situation and ability.
This is not only true about others, but also about us. Many times, we demand of ourselves things that we are not capable of doing, and when we don’t live up to the high standard we set for ourselves, we experience defeat and failure. When we try hard and make the effort yet do not succeed, we must realize that the expectations were apparently exaggerated and unrealistic.
If our expectations were in sync with our abilities, we would surely reach them; a success that would encourage us and empower us with additional strengths to go forward and continue to succeed.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.