Parashat Vayikra: Making Sacrifices for Our Children
Ironically, there are many Jewish schools that omit the Book of Vayikra from their curriculum, figuring that it is too detailed, intricate and difficult for their students. These schools would rather focus their attention on the exciting stories of the Torah, rather than burden the students with the complex laws of the sacrifices.
This is ironic because the Midrash records a tradition to do just the opposite – to make Vayikra the first section of Humash that schoolchildren are taught. The Midrash writes, "Let the pure ones come and study that which is pure." According to this tradition, the best introduction to the world of Torah study for children is precisely the subjects of Vayikra.
Why would the Book of Vayikra be the first section of Humash taught to children?
One explanation might be that the study of Vayikra sends a powerful message not to the children – but to their parents. Communities adopted this custom because they wanted the schoolchildren to return home and report to their parents that they learned about sacrifices. One of the critical foundations of Torah education is sacrifice. Parents must make enormous sacrifices to provide their children with a proper Torah education. Tuition expenses require parents to work long hours and to forego on luxuries. Without doubt, the cost of Jewish education causes many families to live on a much lower standard of living than they would otherwise enjoy. Appropriately, then, the very first subject children were taught was sacrifices – conveying to parents the message that they must be prepared to make significant sacrifices for the sake of their children’s education.
The story is told of a family in early 20th-century Poland that was struggling to make ends meet. The father decided that the family should relocate to the United States where he could open a business and support the family more comfortably than he could in Poland. He sailed to the United States to open a business and get settled, planning to bring his family over after his initial arrangements were completed. Unfortunately, World War I erupted while he was in America, and international travel was brought to a halt. As a result of the war’s upheavals, the family was separated for ten years. During this time, the wife worked very hard to support herself and her two children, and to pay for their Torah education. One day, she was notified that one of her sons was a child prodigy and has the potential to become a leading Torah scholar. The school informed the mother that the child’s level far exceeded that of the other students, and she would have to hire private tutors to study with him so he could realize his potential. The mother promptly took on a nighttime job delivering milk. After a full day of work and caring for her children, when the children were in bed, she would go around town delivering milk in order to earn some extra money for her son’s tutors.
Her efforts paid off. That boy grew to become Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, one of our generation’s leading Torah sages. One can only wonder whether he would have attained this stature without the monumental sacrifices made by his mother on behalf of his education.
In order to educate our children, we must be prepared to make significant sacrifices. Besides the financial sacrifices, we might have to forego on certain activities for the sake of our children’s spiritual growth. Parents might enjoy watching television, but they need to consider the harmful effects a television could have on their children. Parents certainly deserve a luxurious family vacation, but many vacation spots must be labeled as off-limits because of what the children might be exposed to at these locations. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too. If we want our children to grow to become committed, conscientious Jewish adults, we have no choice but to make sacrifices for their education.
The Torah says that as Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son at the Akeda, an angel called to him "from the heavens" and commanded him to withdraw his sword (Bereshit 22:11). Curiously, the angel did not descend to Abraham and speak to him on earth, but rather called to him from the heavens. Rav Moshe Siman-Tov explained that the area around Abraham Abinu at that moment was so sacred, that even the angels could not approach him. When a parent makes a great sacrifice for the sake of his or her children, this sacrifice generates intense Kedusha. Abraham was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, and thus he generated such a high level of sanctity that even the angels had to keep their distance.
This is a crucial message that parents must remember at all times. Every time a parent writes out a check for the child’s education, this creates Kedusha. Every time parents decide against purchasing a luxury item so they can afford their tuition payments, they generate more holiness. And every time parents scratch an idea for vacation out of concern for their children’s spiritual wellbeing, they produce sanctity.
This is one of the fundamental lessons of Vayikra. Torah education requires sacrifice. As parents, we must accept this basic truth and be prepared to make sacrifices for our children’s growth. Indeed, education begins with Vayikra – with the awareness of the central role of sacrifice in the educational process.