QUALITY VS. QUANTITY
Rabbi Chaim Goldberger
Of all the karbanot (offerings) introduced in this week's Torah portion, the only one that does not require the sacrifice of an animal is the karban mincha, an offering of flour mixed with oil and incense brought as a low-cost alternative to the more impressive bullock or fowl offerings.
Of all the karbanot (offerings) introduced in this week's Torah portion, the only one that does not require the sacrifice of an animal is the karban mincha, an offering of flour mixed with oil and incense brought as a low-cost alternative to the more impressive bullock or fowl offerings. Yet, when the Torah describes the people who bring each of the various offerings to the Temple, the only one singled out and identified as being a "nefesh - soul" is the person who brings the lowly karban mincha (Leviticus 2:1). The Talmud (Tractate Menachot 104b) elaborates: "Why is the karban mincha distinguished in that its bearer is termed a 'nefesh' (soul)? Hashem declares: 'Who generally brings a karban mincha? The poor man. I will consider his act as if he sacrificed his entire soul.'"
It can be assumed that to one who is impoverished, the act of parting with fine flour which he might otherwise eat to silence his hunger is an even greater act of sacrifice than that of the rich man giving up an expensive animal. To the pauper, the flour is more than a large chunk of his possessions. It is his very life. The Torah is teaching us that it is not the size of the gift that determines the magnitude of the sacrifice; rather the importance lies in the giver's intentions.
When Jacob dispatched his sons to encounter the mysterious ruler in Egypt, he sent them with a gift. This tribute was indeed a small one - "a bit of balsam, a bit of honey, wax, lotus, pistachios, and almonds" (Genesis 43:11) - but its significance lay not in its size. These items had been carefully deliberated upon and specially selected. They were delicacies that were unavailable in Egypt at the time. Their message was one of painstaking care and thoughtful concern. And quite appropriately, Jacob called the gift a "mincha".
Of all our daily prayers, the one that is the shortest is the afternoon service. It contains neither the long introductory and closing segments of the morning service (Shacharit) nor the Shema and Barchu prayers of the evening service (Ma'ariv). It is basically just the Amidah (the silent supplication), yet the afternoon service is the only one which we call by the name "mincha". Why is that? Because, as impoverished as this service appears, it is the only one that comes right in the middle of our workday; it is the only one that asks us to drop whatever we are busy doing and remind ourselves that we are merely subjects of our great Almighty master. Mincha is the only prayer service that asks us to disconnect ourselves from our mundane and worldly mindset and retreat into a sudden and total encounter with the Divine. It may take just fifteen minutes, but it is a mincha. It reminds us of the perspective necessary in gift-giving of all kinds, that it is not only the size that counts. The meaning and the intentions are significant as well.
Rabbi Chaim Goldberger, a former member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel, is spiritual leader of the Montefiore Synagogue in Lowell, Massachusetts.
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