Based on Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
by Braha Bender
Pop spirituality is a lot like pop psychology – bogus. It sounds good, it looks good, and it does nothing for you. Think the so-called kabbala of Madonna. Think the pseudo-kosher of Britney Spears. To quote Ayelet the Kosher Komic, if Britney Spears wanted to take on a mitzvah, why didn’t she start by taking on a sweater?
Pop spirituality is junk food for the soul. Pretty ideas, pretty feelings, and pretty relationships come and go leaving redoubled emptiness in their wake. Sugar highs very quickly turns into sugar lows. Psychology that is not grounded in solid research is dangerous. So, too, spirituality that is not grounded in a solid moral foundation can do an enormous amount of damage.
Parashas Tzav begins with a description of the korban olah. The korban olah was a unique type of animal offering brought to the Beis HaMikdash by individuals seeking a deeper connection with the Almighty. The korban olah had nothing to do with repentance from sin. It’s entire purpose was simply to achieve greater spirituality.
But the verses describing the korban olah appear immediately after verses describing the korban asham gezelos, the offering brought as part of the process of repentance from the sin of theft. The sages of the Midrash found the link between these two descriptions meaningful.
“So it shall be that when he will sin and become guilty, he shall return the robbed item that he robbed…” (VaYikra-Leviticus 5:23) Only after this does the Torah continue, “This is the law of the olah…” (ibid 6:2) The message is clear: You want to bring an offering to help you become more spiritual? Better get your books in order.
Why? “For I am Hashem, Who loves justice and hates an olah offering [bought] with robbery…” (Yeshaya-Isaiah 61:8) That’s why.
Beings hands-clean was a prerequisite for any activity in the Beis HaMikdash and the Mishkan. Moreover, it remains the basis of authentic spirituality to this day. The word korban comes from the root kerev, closeness. You can’t bring a korban and you can’t come close to G-d until your life is free of human extortion. The two cannot be separated. It’s easy to buy into false highs but what pop-spirituality really produces is an anesthesia against the pain of poor choices and low-brow behavior.
The adjacency of these two descriptions in the Torah also broadens the Jewish definition of theft:
“If a person will sin and commit a treachery against Hashem by lying to his fellow regarding a pledge or a loan or a robbery; or by defrauding his fellow; or he found a lost item and denied it…he shall repay…and he shall bring his guilt-offering to Hashem…” (VaYikra-Leviticus 5:21-25)
All sorts of social injustice are listed there. Theft is not limited to Bonny and Clyde bank robberies or grabbing another person’s wallet. The sorts of things that many businesspeople take for granted turn out to be exactly the kind of behavior the Torah is warning against. Pulling the wool is not okay. Even the seemingly small failure to return a lost item found on the street can obligate the bringing of a korban.
The Talmud brings an example of how far these Jewish laws go. “Who is an extortionist? Rav Chisda said: Go and return, go and return, that person is an extortionist.” (Talmud Baba Metziah 111) Giving another person the runaround is considered theft. Haven’t we all done this at some point? We have stolen other people’s time. Developing a sensitivity towards even this subtle form of extortion is what Parashas Tzav aims to inspire. That’s the basis of real spirituality.
So think on this, Madonna. It was all written over 5,000 years ago. Pop-spirituality is nothing new. Jewish prophets rallied against it, the sages of the Mishna and Talmud fought it, and today’s great Jewish scholars continue the battle. Why? Because being a good person isn’t as easy as it looks.
Real goodness and real spirituality take effort, and no effort is more worthwhile.