Devarim 5778

The necessity of unity[1]

לא תוסיפו הביא מנחת-שוא קטרת תועבה היא לי וגו’‏
sDo not continue to bring worthless Mincha offerings; incense offerings are abominable to me…[2]

Parshas Devarim always occurs on Shabbos Chazon, the shabbos before Tisha B’Av[3]. This shabbos got its title from the first word of its haftarah: the chazon, or vision, of Yeshayahu (Isaiah). The theme of this time of year is reflecting on the twice destroyed Temple and its subsequent exiles, as well as their underlying causes. Yeshayahu prophesied during the period leading up to the first exile. His mission was to try to inspire the people to change their ways. But alas, the people didn’t listen. They went about their daily routine, while committing heinous crimes on the side. Chazal say[4] that the first exile was due to idol worship, murder, and illicit relations. Despite these horrific sins, the Jews continued to bring Temple offerings. While they were in fact fulfilling a mitzvah by bringing them, the Temple service is meant to bring the people close to Hashem. By committing these horrible crimes, considered the worst possible[5], they in fact distanced themselves from their Creator. As such, this week’s haftarah describes Yeshayahu’s rebuke of the people. Their G-d was no longer interested in their offerings. Their hypocrisy had made their offerings despised. But why did Yeshayahu specifically single out the Mincha and incense offerings, as opposed to any other part of the Temple service?

Chazal teach us[6] that any public fast which does not include in it wanton sinners, is not considered a fast. This is learned out from the incense offering[7], which consisted of eleven ingredients, one of which had a foul odor. If it was left out of the incense, the entire thing would be disqualified. However, when this ingredient was combined with the other ingredients, it gave a wonderful smell. So too a public fast requires everyone in order achieve its purpose. We see from here that even something that on its own is worthless, when part of the general group, it becomes fragrant. It can even bring out the fragrant smell of the others. We see a similar idea from the fact that Divine Presence rests among ten Jews[8], even if they are not all deserving[9].

The haftarah compares the Jews of Yeshayahu’s time to the elite of Sedom and Amorrah[10]. What aspect was Yeshayahu referring to? There’s a rule regarding the Mincha offering, that it couldn’t be brought by a partnership[11]. Only an individual can bring it, or the collective congregation[12]. This is because the collective congregation is considered a single entity, like an individual[13]. Therefore, when the Jewish people lost their unity, such that each person wanted to swallow their fellow alive[14], they became like the people of Sedom and Amorrah. Everything became a selfish quest to fulfill one’s desires. As a result, each person became separated on their own; they lost the title of “congregation”. Therefore, the prophet tells them that Hashem no longer desired their worthless Mincha offering. The same was true for the incense offering. When each person becomes more “fragrant” from their friends, even the worst of mankind can become pleasing to Hashem. Exactly like the foul ingredient found in the incense offering. However, when everyone was separated from one another, each person’s negative traits stood out. Therefore, the incense offering became abominable.

These are lessons that apply even in our times. While we no longer have the Temple, there still have been problems of unity throughout the millennia. The second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred[15]. In every generation that the Temple isn’t rebuilt, it’s as if it was destroyed again in that generation[16]. It makes sense that the Temple cannot be rebuilt until the original blemish is rectified[17]. We see that unity is still lacking. If we were to bring a Mincha or incense offering today, it also wouldn’t be accepted. These days are times to reflect on these issues, and to try to work on ourselves. We must learn to look past our differences, as there are always going to be many types of Jews[18]. With that, we hope and pray that the exile will finally come to an end, speedily in our days.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Meshech Chochmah to Isaiah 1:13

[2] Isaiah loc. cit.

[3] Mishneh Torah Tefillah UBirkas Kohanim 13:2; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 428:4 with Kaf HaChaim s.k. 17

[4] Tosefta Menachos 13:4, brought in Yoma 9b

[5] Sanhedrin 74a; Mishneh Torah Yesodei HaTorah 5:2; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 157:1

[6] Kerisos 6b; see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 619:1 with Mishnah Berurah s.k. 1

[7] This is the opinion of R’ Shimon Chasidah. However, Abaye learns it out from Amos 9:6. See Rashi to Kerisos loc. cit.

[8] Sanhedrin 39a

[9] See Derashos HaRan § 1

[10] Isaiah 1:10

[11] Menachos 104b; Mishneh Torah Ma’aseh Korbonos 14:1, 2

[12] Offerings such as the Minchas HaOmer, Shtei HaLechem, Lechem HaPanim, and the Minchas Nesachim

[13] See Ramban to Leviticus 1:2 s.v. תקריבו for an explanation on the difference between a partnership and the congregation

[14] Avos 3:2

[15] Yoma 9b; Yerushalmi Yoma 1:5. See also Tosefta Menachos loc. cit.

[16] Shemiras HaLashon II 7:2. Halachos Ketanos II § 178 is the earliest source I’ve found for this phraseology. However, see Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1 and Midrash Tehillim 137:1 which has a harsher formula: מעלין עליו כאילו הוא (הדור ההוא) החריבו

[17] Preface to Chofetz Chaim s.v. וכאשר נחפשה

[18] See Bamidbar Rabbah 21:2, Midrash Tanchumah Pinchas § 10, and Tanchumah Yashan Pinchas § 1