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Living in a Material World

By: Ms. Katie Matanky

In this week’s parsha we learn a lot about the korbanot. Even though we do not have korbanot today, some of the first words in the parsha lend great insight into our lives: “Adam ki yakriv mikem korban laHashem”. Rashi explains the use of the word “Adam” as a hint to us that just as Adam HaRishon gave a korban to Hashem, but everything belonged to him at the time so it was not considered stolen, so too we should not bring a korban from something that is stolen. While we do not have korbanot today, we can understand this in terms of our own serving of Hashem. What we use to serve Hashem must be pure and something of our own, from ourselves.

The haftara parallels the parsha with a message from Yeshayahu to Bnei Yisrael, imploring them to return to Hashem and abandon their idolatry. Yeshayahu speaks specifically at one point of a man taking wood to use as firewood to warm himself and to feed himself, but then he turns it into an idol.

This is so backwards! And yet, this idea is particularly relevant for our society. How often do we idolicize the very things we have in our lives for necessity alone? Clothing, shelter, food - the basic needs of life - but how basic do we really keep them? Yes, Hashem wants us to enjoy the world, and that’s why things are in color and the foods are delicious and the smells of nature are an olfactory delight. But it should all be going toward the service of Hashem, with purity of heart and a focused state of mind. If our world were an uncomfortable place it would be much more difficult to serve Hashem. However, we must be careful to understand the world as a framework for avodat Hashem, and not as the be-all and end-all; there is a World to Come. It is with this world, with the very material aspects of it that we can elevate our lives to higher levels of ruchniut. This is manifested in a positive way with korbanot, and can be, chas v’shalom, manifested negatively like in the ways of the man in the haftara - taking the material and creating a god from it.

What a powerful thought: it is not with everything that we can serve Hashem. We cannot serve Hashem with something tainted; not from something stolen, not from something we have made into a god for ourselves. Have we made celebrities into gods? Pop culture, designer clothing, exorbitant amounts of food and parties; homes becoming more like palaces? Are these the avodah zara of our time? Is this not the culture of Persia that Bnei Yisrael was warned not to take part in during the times of Esther and Mordechai? Once we stop worshipping the material things Hashem has put on this Earth, we can fully invest in that which He wants from us.

Fear not - the haftara ends on a happier note, one of praise and glory. The passuk uses again the image of a tree, but this time it is a tree in a forest among many, all of which are singing Hashem’s praises as He is Am Yisrael’s savior. The passuk says “Shuva elai ki ge’alticha” - Hashem will erase our sins, and He wants us to do teshuva because He redeemed us. Soon, when we can all serve Him properly with what He has given us, Hashem will redeem us once again, bimheira b’yameinu.

Shabbat Shalom.






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