Parashat Vayikra

The Spirituality Of Business Ethics

Recognizing God as a partner in all business dealings inspires us to conduct these dealings with the utmost care and honesty.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.

Overview

With this week's parashah we begin a new book of the Torah, Leviticus, called Vayikra, which means, "He called," the phrase that opens the book. The Book of Vayikra is also called Torat Kohanim, or the "Instruction of the Priests," as its main topic is sacrifices, purity regulations, and other technical religious details of the priestly religion.

The first Torah portion sets introduces us to different kinds of sacrifices: voluntary offerings; offerings made to atone for accidental transgressions; and offerings made to atone to God after reparation has been done in a civil or criminal case. Offerings may be herd or flock animals, birds, or grains. The important thing to remember is that all these offerings were called korbanot, from the root "to come close;" the book of Leviticus offers us a window into a religious system that had at its core the idea of coming close to God through ritual action.

In Focus

"God spoke to Moses, saying: If a person sins and transgresses against God by lying to his fellow-person, [in the matter of a] pledge, or [in the matter of a] a loan, or a robbery, or [if] he defrauds his fellow-person..." (Leviticus 5:21).

Pshat

This passage, from 5:21-25, deals with various kinds property crimes or criminal dishonesty; for example, if a person denied that he had borrowed money from someone, or tried to keep a pledge for a loan once it had been paid back. Such a person must make full material restitution to the victim of his or her crime, and add a fifth of the value of the property under consideration. Only then can the cheater or liar bring an atoning sacrifice to God.

Drash

The great Talmudic sage R. Akiba asks a great question: why does our verse say that the sin is "against God?" Presumably the cheater or thief stole from his neighbor, not from the Creator of the Universe!

R. Akiva explains:

A creditor and a debtor or people making business negotiations don't make or accept loans or make transactions except with legal documents and witnesses, and thus if somebody lies/ denies [the transaction], he lies/denies the [validity of] the documents and the witnesses.

But someone who gives something to his neighbor as a pledge [or deposit], doesn't want anybody to know about it except for the Third One between them. [In this case], when one denies the transaction, one denies the Third Party [i.e., God.] (Sifra (legal midrash on Leviticus), quoted by Rashi, Nehama Leibowitz, Da'at Hachamim, and others. My translation.)

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.