The Best YOU Can Be

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein  |  March 30, 2017

A man standing in a grassy field looking into the sunrise.

“‘When anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the LORD a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.'” — Leviticus 5:5–6

The Torah portion for this week is Vayikra, which means “and He called,” from Leviticus 1:1–5:26, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 43:21–44:23.

Most sacrifices were directly prescribed by Scripture, but when it came to describing the sacrifice brought by the sinner, there was a sliding scale. Not everyone brought the same offering when they sinned against God. But the scale was not determined by the gravity of the committed sin; it was determined by the amount of money the person had.

This means that a wealthy person brought an animal: “As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the LORD  a female lamb or goat . . .” A person who could not afford that brought two birds: “Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD” (Leviticus 5:7). If two birds were too expensive, then the sinner brought a grain offering: “If, however, they cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, they are to bring . . . of the finest flour.” (Leviticus 5:11). It’s interesting to note that the sinners were not allowed to bring any less than they could afford, or any more than was within their means.

The Jewish sages teach that this prohibition offers us a valuable lesson when it comes to sin: God does not judge us all on the same scale! This means that God doesn’t expect all of us to become Mother Teresa, but he also won’t excuse us for becoming any less than we are capable of becoming. We are expected to be the best we can be – nothing more and nothing less!

This idea is well illustrated in a story about Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli in the 18th century. As the great Rabbi Zusha lay on his death bed, he was crying and no one could console him. Finally, one of his students asked: “Rabbi, what are you so worried about? Surely you will be accepted by God!” To this the saintly rabbi replied: “I’m not worried that God will ask me: ‘Zusha, why weren’t you as great as Abraham or Moses?’ I’m worried that He will ask me: ‘Zusha, why weren’t you as great as Zusha?'”

As the rabbi understood, God will judge us according to our personal potential — and what we did, or did not do, with it.

One day, God will ask each of us what we did with the talents and abilities that He gave to us. What will be your answer? It is said that most tombstones could bear the inscription: “Left with potential completely intact.” Let’s have ours read instead, “Left with potential explored and completely dedicated to God.”

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