By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
“No meal offering that you offer to the L-rd shall be made with leaven, for no leaven or honey may be turned into smoke as an offering by fire to the L-rd. You may bring them to the L-rd as an offering of choice products; but they shall not be offered up on the altar for a pleasing scent” (Vayikra 2:11–12).
King Uzziah as a Parable
Uzziah, king of Judah, was one of the righteous kings of the Davidic dynasty. II Kings (15:3) attests that “He did what was pleasing to the L-rd, just as his father Amatziah had done.” While this is immediately qualified by: “However, the shrines were not removed; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings at the shrines,” we must keep in mind that this is not unusual in regard to many of this dynasty. For this reason, the next verse is quite puzzling: “The L-rd struck the king with a plague, and he was a leper until the day of his death; he lived in isolated quarters, while Yosam, the king’s son, was in charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.”
Why does Uzziah receive such a denigrating punishment, what we would call today “incapacitation,” while his son becomes the de facto king? Furthermore, he contracts leprosy, a punishment with deeply negative spiritual connotations, such that those afflicted are ostracized from society!
However, what the book of Kings concealed is revealed by Chronicles (II 26:16). There, after describing Uzziah’s dazzling success in managing the kingdom (due to his seeking out G-d; verse 5), he decides to perform an act described by the text as follows: “When he was strong, he grew so arrogant he acted corruptly: he trespassed against his G-d by entering the Temple of the L-rd.”
What is this “corruption”? Did he veer from the path of the service of G-d? On the contrary: he actually wanted to serve G-d even more intensely! “To offer incense on the incense altar.” Out of his great desire to cleave to G-d, he wanted to perform acts forbidden by the Torah that may only be performed by those of priestly lineage. And then “leprosy broke out on his forehead in front of the priests in the House of the L-rd beside the incense altar” (ibid., 19). This is his treachery for which he becomes a leper.
King But Not Kohen
It seems that the idea behind this story, about a king who wanted to become a kohen, teaches us that we each have a unique role in life and something that we are supposed to rectify in this world. There is no place for competition or jealousy.
Our objective is to construct the palace of the King of the world, in the most complete and perfect manner possible. Each of us has several square meters that we are supposed to build, and we are supposed to do our work in the best way possible. The moment that the person in charge of ceramic tiles decides on his own — out of his great love for the king — to also fix the palace’s electrical wiring system, he is committing treason. Not only is he abandoning the area that he was charged with, but he is also tinkering with something that he does not have the qualifications to fix; even if he attempts to fix the electricity, he will certainly cause a blackout, at best.
One of man’s primordial desires, manifest soon after the world’s creation, is the desire to give back to the Creator from the blessings that He bestowed on him. Adam offered sacrifices right after his creation, as did his sons Cain and Abel. This is a genuine and beautiful act; yet, to ensure that it leads to something constructive, and not destructive, we need to make sure that every part of our actions follows G-d’s directives.
Every component of creation has a specific, unique way in which it can be elevated. For instance, for the olah offering, only male, and not female, animals may be brought. If someone with only female livestock wants to cleave to G-d and bring his cow or goat, this will be a destructive action. The way in which it is possible to draw closer to G-d by using female animals does not go through the “route” of olah offerings.
Similarly, the Torah commands us not to offer up sweet fruit, “honey,” in Torah terminology, on the altar. Does this mean that fig and date growers cannot bring up their produce to the Beit HaMikdash? On the contrary; they can certainly bring them, but not as a sacrifice, rather as a “primary offering”: bikkurim, first fruits. These are not a sacrifice per se, but they are brought near the altar. In this capacity, bringing these fruits is not only commendable but compulsory — but not as a sacrifice.
The moment we realize that everything has a purpose, that everything can reveal G-d’s kingship in the world but in the manner suitable to each individual, and not from the desire to copy others (which may stem from misplaced jealousy), we can build the foundation upon which we can truly construct a palace for the King of kings.
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. For additional information and inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-8-684-7325.