Value of Striving
This week’s portion deals with the difficult topic of Karbanos — sacrificial offerings. As hard as is it for us to conceive that offering animals up to G-d would enhance our relationship with G-d, the root of the word karbanos — karov — means closeness. It is not a question if G-d needs our offerings (as obviously He does not); rather, it is through our giving that this closeness is achieved.
There are many different detailed laws relating to karbanos. One of these laws is the law that every meal offering must be offered with salt: “You shall salt your every meal offering with salt” (Lev. 2:13).
During the second day of creation, G-d divided the upper waters and the lower waters. The Midrash explains that the earthly waters complained because they too wanted to be close to G-d. G-d placated the earthly waters by making a covenant with them that they would have a share in the Temple service because salt (which comes from the sea) would be placed on the offerings.
Why would the lower waters agree to be separated from G-d, merely for the chance to be offered on the altar? Why give up a permanent closeness for one which only occurs occasionally?
What is the meaning of this esoteric Midrash?
The Maharal explains with a fundamental Talmudic concept (tractate Brochos 28a) that we always strive to go up in holiness and never down. This means that in every move a person makes, the question must be evaluated: will this enhance his closeness with G-d, or decrease it? And if it will decrease he should not do it. In light of this Talmudic dictum, how were the waters permitted to be separated from G-d?
Obviously in making this covenant with G-d, the lower waters were actually getting closer to G-d.
The reason the lower waters agreed to this covenant was because by moving further away from G-d, it acquired the opportunity to move close to Him! True, had the waters remained in the upper regions it never would have had to lower itself, but it never would have acquired the upper regions, it just would have resided there. Yet by agreeing to be lowered, and earning the opportunity to rise up again, the waters truly earned its closeness with G-d.
The above mentioned Midrash is meant to teach us an important lesson. There is a well known question (raised by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in Da’as Tevunos): why did G-d not simply create us as perfect beings? One of the answers is, that had we been created perfect, we would never have been able to achieve perfection.
It is not necessarily where we are, but what we are striving to become. Our closeness with G-d is not only realized when we reach the final destination, but in our striving to get there.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.