Parshas Re'eh 5767
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Adapted from a shiur given by R' Baruch Simon
כָּל-הַבְּכוֹר אֲשֶׁר יִוָּלֵד בִּבְקָרְךָ וּבְצֹאנְךָ, הַזָּכָר--תַּקְדִּישׁ, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: לֹא תַעֲבֹד בִּבְכֹר שׁוֹרֶךָ, וְלֹא
תָגֹז בְּכוֹר צֹאנֶךָ.
“Every firstborn that is born in your cattle, and in your flocks---a male--- you must consecrate to Ad-noy, your G-d; you may not work with your first-born ox, or shear the first-born of your flocks.” (Sefer Devarim, 15:19)
The Bechor (firstborn) sacrifice is unique by virtue of the fact that it attains its status of “Hekedesh”/consecrated by simply being born. When the animal passes through the mother’s womb, it is automatically consecreated; Chazal refer to this type of sacrifice as “Kadosh M’eilav”, loosely translated as “inherently holy”. This differs from all other Karbanos which become consecrated only after verbally declaring that animal should be Hekdesh.
Rashi, quoting the Mishna in Arachin, wonders why, if the Bechor is consecrated automatically, does the Pasuk tell us that “you must consecrate”. Why do we need to do anything if it is inherently holy? Furthermore, there is an explicit Pasuk in Parshas Bechokosai (Vayikra 27:26) that tells us that a person SHOULDN’T consecrate the first-born…what gives?
Rashi, quoting the Mishna in Arachin, answers according to the Rabbanan, who say that the Pasuk in Bechukosai which says that a person shouldn’t consecrate the animal means to tell us that we cannot consecrate it for something else. We are therefore prohibited to bring this animal as a sin-offering because it already has the status of a Bechor. However, our Pasuk which tells us to consecrate the animal is telling us that even though there is inherently holiness by virtue of the fact that the animal was born, nevertheless, we still have a Mitzvah to verbally consecrate the sacrifice like any other.
This is actually an entire Halachic sugya in Nedarim. The Gemara there discusses which types of utterances make a Neder into a valid one. The rule is that if someone says that they want to “make this apple assur to me like a Karbon Chatas”, that works, as one can use an utterance of something that needs a verbal declaration to make it assur. However, regarding something that doesn’t need a verbal declaration to make it assur, one couldn’t use that in an Neder utterance. Thus, if one says that they want to “make this apple assur to me like pig”, it is no good, as pig is assur to us even without verbal declaration. The question arises, what about Karbon Bechor? On one hand, we could say that it is like making a Neder with a Karbon Chatas, because, as our Pasuk tells us, even a Karbon Bechor needs verbal consecration. Or, on the other hand, perhaps it is like making a Neder with a pig, as the Karbon is assur to us as soon as it is born, even without verbal consecration, like a pig.
When we look at this idea, it is a bit bizarre. Why do we have do verbally consecrate the animal if it is inherently holy? Furthremore, by other Karbonos, if we don’t verbally consecrate them they are 100% permissible for us to eat; this is not the case by Bechor – even without our verbal declaration they are already Kadosh. The Sefer Yeraim and the Smag suggest that while it has inherent holiness, we still are obligated to show some sort of Chavivus/endearment to the Mitzvah.
The underlying message here is that anything that has Kedushah or is meaningful in life requires effort. Things that happen by themselves often have little value. This is evidenced by the fact that the Torah can’t handle us, in the case of Bechor, to be inactive participants. Rav Schachter points out a Meshech Chochmah which examines why, when the Shofar blew at the end of Matan Torah, could anyone ascend the mountain. He answers there that while Matan Torah was surely an awesome event, what made it awesome was our active partnership in accepting the Torah. It wasn’t simply the Hashem was giving us the Torah, but rather, we were receiving it. Once we had received it and were ready to be on our way, the mountain lost its awesomeness and anyone could ascend. Whether it’s the beginning of a new school year or just the beginning of a Yom Tov season, we should realize this lesson that whatever we wish to accomplish can only be attained through our active partnership in whatever it is that we’re doing.