From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“A satisfying aroma to G‑d”
Without going into the whole question of sacrifices, one difficult phrase that appears in this week’s reading and throughout the early chapters of Vayikra is “rei’ach nicho’ach l’Hashem—a satisfying aroma to G‑d.” These few words seem to accentuate an element of appeasing the Deity in the sacrifices. Why the repeated emphasis on satisfying G‑d?
Some have suggested that with all the pageantry associated with Temple rites and rituals, people might come to place undue importance on the Kohanim and their ceremonials. The ritual directors might become so prominent in people’s eyes that they would forget about the Al–mighty. It was therefore necessary to remind worshippers to whom they ought to be directing their offerings, thoughts, and prayers.
As a rabbi, I am often called upon to pray for people. This one is in need of a blessing for improved health, the other wants to earn a better living, and so it goes. There are set times for such prayers in the synagogue service, and I am happy to oblige. But I also suggest to people that they themselves should be in shul for the prayer too.
Furthermore, there is no more sincere prayer than that of the person in need. Surely their sincerity will be unmatched, even by the most pious of rabbis.
The story is told of a saintly rabbi of yesteryear who was approached by a woman in need of a blessing for her child. The rabbi demanded a large amount for charity in return for his prayer. The woman was apologetic and said she didn’t have that amount of money. Could the rabbi reduce the price? But he was adamant. After all her haggling got her nowhere, the woman stormed out in a huff. “I’ll pray for myself,” she said angrily. “Aha,” said the rabbi. “That is exactly what I was hoping to hear. Your prayer will be better and more effective than anyone’s.” The saintly man understood that this woman was placing too much credence in him and forgetting about G‑d.
There used to be an unhealthy—and thankfully now largely discredited—attitude among many that one could hire a rabbi to perform all religious duties on his behalf. Let the rabbi keep kosher and let him observe Shabbat and yom tov. Let him study the Torah to keep it alive to pass on to the next generation . . . of rabbis! Meanwhile, I will live the easy life and pay for the services of a rabbinical professional when I need them. Until then, don’t bother me. I’m busy.
I once encouraged someone to try putting on tefillin in the mornings. His response: “Rabbi, you do it for me.” I asked him if I could also eat for him and sleep for him. Rabbis are not meant to be intermediaries between Jews and G‑d. Every Jew has a personal and direct relationship with G‑d. There are not 612 commandments for ordinary Jews and 614 for rabbis. We all have the same 613 obligations, no more, no less. Rabbis are only teachers, to advise and to guide. The rabbi will be happy to help and do whatever he can, but remember that, ultimately, we have to help ourselves and each of us can turn to the single most important address in the universe, and that is G‑d.
Rabbis may be very reliable, but don’t rely on the rabbis. Kohanim, Levi’im, rabbis, and teachers all have their important roles to play. But never confuse the messenger with the One who sent him. Long ago, our sages taught (and it has even become a popular Israeli bumper sticker) that we have no one to turn to but our Father in Heaven. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.