What the Poor Man HasMarch 12, 2014 - 5:00 am
Aaron and his sons shall eat the rest of it, but it is to be eaten without yeast in the sanctuary area; they are to eat it in the courtyard of the tent of meeting. — Leviticus 6:16
The Torah portion for this week is Tzav, which means “command,” from Leviticus 6:1–8:36, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 7:21–8:3; 9:22–23.
The Ba’al Shem Tov, a renowned Hasidic teacher in the eighteenth century, used to say that he was envious of the poor. Now, many people are envious of movie stars or sports figures; many people express a desire to become the president of the United States or the doctor who cures cancer. But have you ever heard of someone saying that they wished to be poor? What did the Rabbi find so enviable about poor people?
This week’s Torah portion includes many laws regarding sacrifices. One category of sacrifices was called the grain offering. This was the offering of the poor who could not afford to present an animal or bird to God. The grain offering was unleavened bread, also known as the “poor man’s bread.” It was flat and simple – a most humble offering.
Interestingly, the laws regarding these offerings indicate that they are especially holy. While most sacrifices could be consumed by anyone, only the holy priests were permitted to eat the grain offerings. Moreover, the offerings had to be eaten in the holy sanctuary area of the Tabernacle, and then later, the Temple. So it stands to reason that if these grain offerings of the poor were given such special treatment, the poor who offered them must be special as well.
The Hasidic Rabbi explained his admiration for the poor by pointing out their special quality. He said that the rest of us are distracted and fooled by the illusions of our material possessions and wealth. We lack clarity about life, God, and our relationship to Him. But the poor experience a connection with God that the Rabbi envied. The poor have no one and nothing to rely upon except for the Lord. They are clear about what and who matters in life. As a result, they forge a deep relationship with God and enjoy an extra close connection.
In Psalm 40, King David proclaims, “But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the LORD think of me” (v. 17). Since when is the king considered poor?
In truth, David didn’t want for anything, but he revealed something about us all. The reality is that we all are poor and needy. No matter what we may think we have, the truth is that we don’t have anything at all. Everything belongs to God, and the fact that He has blessed us with certain things today is no guarantee that we will be given them again tomorrow.
The good news is that this realization can deeply enhance our relationship with God. When we recognize that we, too, are poor and needy, we rely only on Him. We can develop the kind of closeness with God that the Rabbi envied and that God desires.