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Parashat Vayikra - Burn your pride – Rabbi Meir Kahane

When you offer a meal offering that is baked in an oven, it shall be of fine flour: unleavened loaves [matzot] mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers [matzot] smeared with oil. If your offering is a meal offering on the pan, it shall be of fine flour mixed with oil, it shall be unleavened [matza]. (Parashat Vayikra, Lev. 2:4-5).

Chametz and other forms of leaven symbolize the evil impulse and arrogance, for yeast inflates dough and turns it into chametz. Se'or [a type of leaven or yeast] derives from sa'ar, storm, for it agitates dough and makes it rise. Just so, the evil impulse and arrogance inflate humble man to visions of grandeur, power and pride: “May the L-rd cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks proud things!... 'For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise,' says the L-rd; I will save them from him who inflates himself” (Psalms 12:4,6. The haughty person who talks grandly, “inflates himself”.

Theft and wickedness, conceived in arrogance, are called chometz, which means vinegar: “Seek justice, support the victim of theft [chamotz]” (Isaiah 1:17); and “Rescue me out of the hand of the wicked, out of the grasp of the unrighteous and ruthless [chometz] man” (Psalms 71:4. Clearly, chomes/chamsan [robber, oppressor] derives from chometz, as well. This is because chometz connotes that which is spoiled, just as wine vinegar is made from spoiled wine. In the same way, our sages called the evildoer whose father was righteous, “vinegar [chometz], son of wine.”

It must be added that while chametz is a symbol of haughtiness, chametz's opposite, matza [unleavened bread], is called in Scripture “lechem oni” - bread of hardship (Deut. 16:3). On the one hand, Rashi explains “oni” as being related to aniyut (poverty) and inui (affliction): “Bread reminiscent of the poverty suffered in Egypt.” This jibes with the verses, “I have indeed seen the suffering of My people” (Ex. 3:7) and “You saw the affliction of our ancestors in Egypt” (Nehemia 9:9), and surely “oni” and “inui” derive from the same root. Together with this, however, there is another meaning. Matza comes in opposition to chametz. Chametz symbolizes the bread of the wealthy man with his haughty dream of attaining wealth and honor, whereas matza symbolizes the bread of the lowly, modest man. Thus “lechem oni”, rendered above as the “bread of hardship”, can mean “the bread of the humble man” (anav). Another mitzvah was given to Israel as an everlasting reminder against arrogance and conceit, namely, the prohibition against consuming non-kosher fat:

“All the fat is the L-rd's. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings, that you shall eat neither fat nor blood.” (Parashat Vayikra, Lev. 3:16-17). The fact that “all the fat is the L-rd's” is a clear hint that wealth and honor are befitting only for G-d, fat symbolizing these. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I will give you the good of the land of Egypt and you shall eat the fat of the land.” (Gen. 45:18). Moreover, Ibn Ezra comments that in “all the chelev of the oil and all the chelev of the wine and the corn” (Num. 18:12), chelev connotes “the choicest and the best”. Fatness symbolizes health and strength, as in Pharaoh's dream [of the seven fat and seven gaunt cows].

Thus, the wealth, honor, beauty and splendor symbolized by chelev belong only to G-d. They are becoming only to Him, because all these traits are His. Even beyond this, however, chelev, fatness here on earth, is nothing but a symbol of conceit and the pursuit of pleasure, wealth and honor: “Their obese hearts have they shut tight, their mouths speak proudly” (Psalms 17:10); “Their eyes protrude from obesity , they are gone beyond the imaginations of their heart” (Ibid., 73:7); and “Their heart is gross like fat, but I delight in Your law” (Ibid., 119:70). [See also] Rambam (Issurei HaMizbeach 7:11): Whoever wishes merit should suppress his evil impulse and show generosity by bringing his offering from the choicest of the species in question. The Torah says, “And Abel also offered some of the firstborn of his flock, from the fattest ones [chelbehen]. And the L-rd paid heed to Abel and his offering”(Gen. 4:4). Chelev connotes the choicest, plumpest, richest animal specimen. It thus symbolizes the human pride which compels man toward wealth, honor and the cravings of this world. Hence, we are not only obligated to sacrifice the choicest animal specimen but to take its fat, the symbol of pride and what is best and most desirable, and give it to G-d. Through our readiness to donate to G-d the most important part, we rid ourselves of pride, proclaiming, “All the fat is the L-rd's!”

It follows that both chametz and chelev are symbols of pride. Still, there is a difference between them. Chametz symbolizes the egotism which entices a person toward the haughty pursuit of wealth and honor. Since it symbolizes the root and source of evil, it has no place on G-d's altar, the symbol of holiness, free of all arrogance. By contrast, chelev symbolizes wealth and honor that a person has already attained and through which he is liable to become haughty. Therefore, a man is obligated to demonstrate the suppression of his evil impulse through his willingness to donate this symbol of pride and burn it.

It is true that G-d does not reject wealth. Like everything else G-d made, man can use it for good or evil, and it is certainly possible to direct wealth toward good ends. Certainly wealth is not evil per se, despite those false religions that wax pious in their condemnation of it. Money is neither good nor bad. If we use it to build the Temple and to do mitzvot, it is good. If, however, it is put in service of arrogance and lust, nothing could be worse. Not only does man's egotism drive him to pursue wealth, but that wealth turns him into an even more conceited evildoer. It is a vicious cycle. One of our most important principles is: “To the L-rd belongs the earth and everything in it.” (Ps. 24:1). Everything belongs to G-d, and nothing that ostensibly belongs to man is really his. Rather, it is only given to him to use. The concept of holiness provides a concrete example to help us understand the essence of property here on earth – that it belongs exclusively to G-d, and not to man.

What does Scripture say of him who makes unwarranted use of Temple property? He shall bring as his guilt-offering to the L-rd, a [two-year-old] unblemished ram with a prescribed value of [at least] two silver shekels, according to the sanctuary standard. He must make restitution for taking something that was holy and shall add a fifth. (Parashat Vayikra, Lev. 5:15-16). The reason he must add precisely a fifth is that it fits the crime. This person was obligated to give up to a fifth of “his” property, as it were, to charity: “In giving charity, one should lavish no more than a fifth of his wealth” (Ketuvot 67b). In doing so, he would have demonstrated G-d's ownership over his property. Instead, he stole Temple property. Hence, he must pay a fifth as he should have done of his “own” property, so to speak. Among the nations and the alien culture, all sorts of outlooks have been formed regarding property, and despite the superficial differences between them, all are based on the perception that the world and property belong to man. In this regard, there is no difference between what the non-Jews call “Capitalism”, “Socialism” or “Communism”. Whether a non-Jew argues that property is a private possession or argues that it belongs to society, he means that it is the property of man. Not so G-d, Whose Torah states that everything belongs to Him, and that property and possessions were given to mankind only for use. Thus, when G-d decrees that we must give tzedakah, it is our duty to do so. Tzedakah does not at all come from the property of the wealthy man. He has no ownership whatsoever over what is given him by Heaven. Such is our sages' intent in Avot 3:7 : “Give to G-d of His own, for you and yours are His”.