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Hashem accepts animal offerings to atone for sin. In fact, when a person brings an animal as a korban (offering), he is supposed to think to himself that whatever is being done to the animal should have been done to him.
For example, when the animal is slaughtered, he should say to himself, “That should have been my neck.” When its blood gets sprinkled on the Altar, he should say, “That should have been my blood.” When it gets skinned he should think, “That should have been my skin.” When it gets burned he should say, “I should have been burned, but God had compassion on me by accepting this animal in my stead.”
However, this raises a difficulty. Why does an innocent animal have to die because of a person’s sins? Apparently, the right thing to do would be to have the person brought up as an offering to atone for his own sins.
The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh (parshas Shmini 9:8) answers this question by saying that when a person sins, he loses his status of “Adam” (a person) and becomes a “Biheimah” (animal). Perhaps, one explanation of this is that people typically plan ahead. Whether purchasing a home or taking a trip, a lot of planning is involved. How much more so must we plan for our ultimate future, the afterlife.
Do you know who doesn’t plan ahead? Animals. They act on pure impulse. They respond to the urge of the moment. Animals do not think about consequences.
When a person sins, he is not planning ahead for his ultimate future. This is behaving like an animal. As such, a sinner is demoted from “Adam” to “Biheimah.”
But, when a person decides to do Teshuvah (repent), he is thinking ahead. Once again, he regains his title of “Adam.”
Therefore, when it comes time for a korban to be brought, how can a person be offered? Why should a person be killed because of a sin committed by an animal? A korban should reflect the sinner. Since an “animal” sinned, an animal is offered.
We cannot bring the person who had stooped to the level of an animal as an offering because that animal has disappeared on account of his Teshuvah which promoted him back to the level of an Adam. There is no other choice but to bring an actual animal as an offering.
What a powerful message is contained in animal offerings! The person is being told that, at one time, he behaved like an animal. Therefore, a person must feel pain that he stooped to the level of an animal at one time.
This pain coupled with the actual animal offering, atones for the person and saves him from punishment. This is the meaning behind the verse, “Adam U’biheimah Toshiya Hashem” (Both man and beast You save, Hashem; Tehillim 36:7). The pain that an Adam experiences about having stooped to the level of an animal, together with an animal offering itself, saves Man from punishment.
It turns out that the Teshuvah process is about shedding off the status of “Biheimah”, and gradually taking on the title of “Adam” once again. This idea can be found in the following Mishnah.
The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah, chap. 1, “Arba’a Roshei Shanim”, Mishnah 1, pg. 2a) says, “On the first day of Elul, it is the ‘Rosh Hashanah’ (new year, with respect to) Ma’aser Biheimah (tithing animals).” This means that any animal born before Rosh Chodesh Elul belongs to last year’s animals, and any animal born after Rosh Chodesh Elul is counted with the animals of that next year.
There is a deeper message contained in this Mishnah, because the Zohar says that “Ma’aser” represents “Yiras Hashem” (the reverence we are supposed to have for Hashem). This is because “Ma’aser” is a tenth, hinting to the tenth letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, which is a yud. The letter yud is the first letter of “yira” (reverence), representing Yiras Hashem.
Based on this Zohar, the Maggid of Koznitz (parshas Re’eh) cites his Rebbe, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk who says that the aforementioned Mishnah can be read with an alternative understanding. This is how it goes.
“On the first day of Elul” – a person begins doing Teshuvah in order to prepare himself for…
“Rosh Hashanah” – so that he enters that day with…
“Ma’aser” – a tithe – a tenth – the letter yud – representing – Yiras Hashem. But, to do that, he must transform himself from a…
“Biheimah” – from an animal to an Adam.
In other words, the Mishnah is telling what our focus is supposed to be during this period of time. We should be concentrating on becoming less and less of an animal, and try to become more and more of a person.
The Imrei Noam (Hoshanah Rabbah, 8) supports this idea by pointing out that this whole period of Teshuvah begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and concludes on Shmini Atzeres. In all, there are 52 days. The number 52 is special because it is the numerical value of the word “Biheimah”, teaching us that at this time of year we are trying to become less of an animal and more of a mentch.
This teaching is echoed in the first topic of our parsha, which discusses the Yefas Toar (woman of beautiful form captured during war). According to the Arizal (Likkutei Torah), there is a much deeper lesson contained in this subject matter. This is the way he understands the verses (Ki Seitzei 21:10-13):
“When you go out to war against your enemy” – meaning, against the real enemy, the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) …
“Hashem will deliver him into your hand” – God guarantees your success.
“You will seize captives” – meaning, you will be able to claim your body back from being held in captivity by the Yetzer Hara.
“And you will see amongst your captives a woman of beautiful form” – meaning, you will see that you have a beautiful neshamah (soul).
“And you will desire her” – meaning, you will want to save your soul from the Yetzer Hara.
“And you will take her to be your wife” – meaning, you will want to connect with your soul. So, this is what you must do to succeed…
“You must bring her into your house” – such as synagogues and study halls, protected from foreign negative influences.
“She must shave her hair” – meaning, rid yourself of false beliefs and unkosher outlooks represented by hair which grows out of the head which is opposite the brain from which we formulate our thoughts and outlooks.
“She must cut her nails” – meaning, distance yourself from running after unnecessary materialism represented by long nails which are unnecessary.
“Remove the clothing she was captured in” – meaning, remove the negative attitudes and behaviors we have clothed ourselves in as a result of sin.
“She must cry over her father and mother” – meaning, she (the soul) must cry over the distance that has been created between her and her Father in Heaven, and she must cry over the distance that has been created between her and her “mother,” the Jewish people and their ways.
“(She must cry for) a full month” – meaning, during the month of Elul.
“Then you can come to her and be intimate with her and she will be your wife” – meaning, you will be able to connect with your soul once again.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this approach of the Arizal supports the earlier idea because the topic of the Yefas Toar is teaching us that we should be concentrating on saving our souls from being held captive in a body governed by the Yetzer Hara, because such a body has the status of a Biheimah. Such a body is no place for a princess, such as the neshamah, to reside in because the soul comes from royalty, carved out from under the Throne of Glory.
Now let’s see how this ties in to the mechanics of gilgulim (reincarnations).
The Yismach Moshe (parshas Noach, citing Mekubalim) says that sometimes a person is reincarnated into a person, and sometimes he is reincarnated into an animal. But, there is a huge difference between the two.
When reincarnated into a person, he has no idea that he has been reincarnated. He does not remember his past or which sins he committed which brought him back down to Earth again.
However, when reincarnated into an animal, the soul remembers everything. It remembers who it was in past lives and it knows why it Hashem decreed upon it to suffer inside of an animal’s body.
There are two reasons for this distinction. The first reason is a natural one. Since a human soul was never meant to reside inside of an animal, it never integrates with its animal surroundings. Rather, it remains apart from the animal body. Yes, it is imprisoned inside of the animal’s body, but it does not become one with the body. Therefore, the soul retains its essence and intelligence and thereby remembers everything.
However, when a human soul is reincarnated into a human body, it’s a match. Since the time of creation, God’s intention was that human souls should dwell in human bodies. Therefore, when a soul is reincarnated into a human body, it integrates with that body, becoming one with it. This is a new creation, and the soul only knows about its current set of circumstances. Just like when a person is born for the first time, there is no memory of the past (Niddah, chap. 3, “Hamapeles Chatichah”, pg. 30b), similarly, when a person is reborn, there is no memory of the past.
The second reason for this distinction is a logical one. When a person is reincarnated into a human body, the purpose of the reincarnation is to fix the mistakes of the past. Therefore, it is imperative that the person not remember his past because in order to repair old mistakes one requires free choice. If he were to remember what his old mistakes were, and if he was aware that he came back down just to fix those problems, he wouldn’t have much of a choice. He would be propelled to do the right thing. As such, he could not be credited for doing the right thing. Just like when a person is born for the first time he forgets his past life (coming from the Throne of Glory and living with angels learning Torah all day) so as to provide him with an opportunity of choosing good, similarly, when reincarnated, he loses all memory of the past so that his choices are meaningful.
However, when a person is reincarnated into an animal, the purpose of reincarnation is not to fix, but to punish the soul. In order that the punishment be most effective, the soul remembers everything and thereby experiences anguish that it has been reduced to residing inside of an animal’s body.
The Shvilei Pinchas points out that this punishment fits the crime. When the person was alive as a person and sinned, he became like an animal. As such, he forced his soul to dwell inside of an “animal.” Therefore, measure for measure, he is forced to reside inside of a real animal in his new incarnation.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that what becomes clear from all of this is that our mission in Elul is to become less of an animal and become more of a mentch. Perhaps we could suggest some practical steps that we can take to help accomplish this process.
First, we must stop animalistic activities. So, let’s choose one small sin that we know we are guilty of repeating. Let’s decide to stop that one habit, at least during these 52 days. Let’s see how we manage and how we feel about ourselves afterwards. This cessation is taking one step in the right direction of becoming less animalistic.
Secondly, prior to doing a mitzvah, have in mind that we are doing it to sanctify that part of our bodies. This will help transform the body into a holy palace fit for housing the princess, the soul.
So, may we all be blessed this Elul to rescue our Yifas Toar Neshamos by becoming less and less of an animal, and by becoming more and more of an Adam, avoiding all types of gilgulim, and thus be granted another year of health, wealth, and happiness, with all of our souls joining together at our King’s royal palace, the Beis Hamikdash, that should be built speedily in our days.
Good Shabbos, Warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg