Parshat Vayikra: The poor man’s prayer
Vayikra 2:1 “When a soul offers a mincha / meal-offering to God”
Based on the writings of Rav Natan in Likutey Halachot.
In Temple times, a person could find atonement for their sins by bringing a sacrifice. The penitent would buy a bull, a ram, a dove – whatever they could afford, and it would be slaughtered in the Temple courtyard and rise as a ‘satisfying aroma’ to God.
But what about the poor man? How was the poor man meant to atone for his sins and make teshuva, if he couldn’t even afford food for himself, let alone the price of a costly Temple sacrifice? Hashem didn’t forget that poor man. Instead, he instituted the mincha / meal-offering, where for a couple of pennies’ worth of flour, even the poor man could bring an offering that would atone for his misdeeds.
And what about us, today, when the Temple no longer stands yet we are so in need of true atonement and repentance?
Writing in Likutey Halachot, Rav Natan of Breslov tells us:
“Returning to God, teshuva, is related at its root to the simple mincha offering of flour – the offering of the pauper, the “prayer of the poor man.” This is because effective teshuva requires a person to break his trait of pride completely, and to honestly recognize his poverty and spiritual lowliness.”
How can we even hope to make enough teshuva?
Honestly? Who can ever hope to make enough teshuva to fix everything they make have wrecked in the world, spiritually? We walk around saying and doing things all the time to upset and hurt others, blissfully unaware that there’s even a problem.
That parking spot I snuck into right in front of the other guy’s nose? It’s no big deal! We don’t know how many times the other guy circled around, how late it made him to try and find another place, how angry he got at us.
That cutting comment we made to a colleague at work, where we made it clear that their performance on the job was really sub-standard, and that they needed to think very carefully about how to pull their socks up from here? We thought we were giving them a timely and appropriate shot across the bows – and maybe we were.
But that didn’t prevent that other person’s self-esteem from collapsing into pieces. They went home that night feeling like a complete waste of space, and they took it out on themselves and their family in a million different ways.
It’s not a big deal
It’s not a big deal, that we didn’t pay the whole amount we said we would…it’s not a big deal that we told our kid we’d play ball with them then reneged, because we were exhausted from a hard day at the office. It’s not a big deal, that we forget to say our morning brachas…or our afternoon brachas…or the blessing you say after you go to the bathroom.
Yet all these small, inconsequential nothings start to build up, and if we ever really thought about how much destruction and hurt we’ve trailed in our wake, we’d probably start to feel pretty bad about ourselves.
How can a lowly person fix all that big mess? How can they rebuild so much of what they unwittingly destroyed? How can they turn all these spiritual negatives around?
God’s mercies never cease
Rav Natan reassures us: God’s mercies never cease. Even a little bit of flour, even a poor man’s prayer, can rectify the situation and start to turn everything around. Today, we don’t have a Temple and we don’t have sacrifices, so all we can offer up to Hashem is our words.
But the Zohar tells us that Hashem desires this type of ‘offering’ more than any other, especially when it’s accompanied with humility and a broken heart.
Rav Natan tells us: “The primary rectification of teshuva is to never despair, even if we reach rock bottom.”
God can fix everything
Because God can fix everything that we’ve broken. God can revive even the faintest soul, and give renewed spiritual vigor to even the most exhausted soul. God knows how lowly we are, especially in our generation. He knows how hard we find it even to do the simplest mitzvahs, the smallest good deeds, to take the smallest steps towards making teshuva.
That’s why He instituted the mincha offering, the prayer of the poor person. Because if that prayer is offered up sincerely, it can still transform the whole world.