Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Look Up to Go Up
"Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When a man (Adam) among
you advances an offering to Hashem (G-d), from animals, from cattle, or
from sheep shall you bring your offering."
Rashi points out that the Torah's use of the word "Adam" for "a man" is
unusual. Normally the Torah uses the more common "ish". Also noteworthy is
the Torah's use of a small Alef on the word Vayikra - And Hashem called
(Vayikra) to Moshe.
"Who is wise?" say Chazal, our Sages, "He who learns from every man (~Adam'
in Hebrew)." Life is one big learning experience. With each new person we
meet, in every new encounter, there is a hidden lesson waiting to be learned.
We are not, however, limited to learning solely from our fellow man. David
HaMelech says (Tehilim (8:4)), "When I see Your heavens, the work of Your
fingers, the moon and the stars which You have established... " David's
eyes, say mefarshim (Torah commentators) constantly gazed heavenward. He
thought about the malachim (angels), how they served Hashem constantly with
fear and trepidation. Though man is not a malach, David would ignite
himself with an inner fire burning with love and fear of G-d, as he
contemplated the holy service of the angels. When will I be able to serve
Hashem with such great awe? he thought to himself.
If we gaze downward, there too we will find there is much to be learned.
Even from an ant, we can gain wisdom and insight into our service of
Hashem. Chazal say (Eiruvin 100b), "We can learn proper behaviour from the
chicken (see there); reservedness from the cat (Rashi - she doesn't
defecate before humans, and covers up afterwards); and integrity from the
ant (Rashi - as it says (Mishlei 6:8), ~She prepares her [own] bread in the
summer,' and does not take from that which her fellow ants have prepared)."
No matter where we look, says the Imrei Noam (R' Meir of Dzikov z"l), we
can find suggestions and hints which can be used to enhance our service of
Hashem. But where should our concentration lie? Were should we cast our
gaze? Certainly to that which is above us! When we think about the animals,
we teach ourselves that at the very least, we should not be less than an
animal. If even a cat, with her limited faculties, is reserved in her
conduct, how much more so should we, humans with discernment and
intelligence be reserved and refined! But when we focus our view
heavenward, when we attempt to emulate the service of the malachim, then we
are setting ourselves goals and looking for growth in our service of
Hashem. People flock to watch professionals perform, knowing full-well that
they will never attain their high level of performance. It gives them what
to look up to. They observe and are amazed. They go home and practice and
dream of one day also being able to perform with such precision and talent.
So too, man, of flesh and blood, will never serve Hashem with the same
fervour and energy as do the holy malachim. Yet this should not stop him
from constantly gazing upward, towards the heavens, and dreaming that one
day too his avodah (service of Hashem) will be similar to that of the
When a man among you advances an offering to Hashem - if one wishes to come
closer to Hashem, this can be accomplished by gazing at and contemplating
even the lowly beasts of the earth; from animals, from cattle, or from
sheep shall you bring your offering. The Alef of Vayikra, however, is
small. Alef means "to learn" (see Iyov 38:11). This type of learning,
though praiseworthy, should not be our ultimate goal. It is a "small" and
constricted way of thinking. A man should not be satisfied by simply
ensuring that he is no less than the animals. He must strive to emulate
that which is higher than him. To take steps forward and climb the ladder
of serving Hashem, rather than just making sure he is well footed on the
Each person knows deep inside how far they are from reaching their full
potential. There is so much room for improvement: I could daven (pray) with
more kavannah (concentration), learn with more hasmadah (diligence), do
more for others... Yet sometimes one takes solace in that which he is not.
At least, one will say, I am not like so-and-so. One, for instance, who
occasionally speaks (to other people) during davening (prayers) excuses
this "minor" misdeed by observing that there are many who speak on a much
more regular basis than him. In comparison, after all, what he's doing is
really not so terrible at all. And one who occasionally deals dishonestly,
pinching a few pens and pencils from the office now-and-again, or
embellishing an insurance claim, will often dismiss his transgression by
contrasting it with the rampant fraud and deception that are found in
today's business environment. Some reason: Many people don't even come to
beis ha-midrash (study hall) at all to learn, so if I come for an hour at
night, I'm a tzaddik (righteous person), right?
Not necessarily. Hashem demands from each person that they use their full
capabilities in their avodas Hashem (service of G-d). To be better than
others is meaningless. We must strive to be the best that we can be,
regardless of what everyone else may or may not be doing. If we are to look
upon others, it should not be to take solace in our lowliness, or to feel
smug about the little we do. Rather we should gaze upwards and look at
those who are learning more than us, and davening with more kavannah, those
with greater integrity and better middos.
That which man is called "Adam" alludes to this concept. "Adameh la'Elyon,
I will compare with that which is above (Yeshayahu 14:14)." "Who is wise?
He who learns from every Adam." True, we can learn from everyone. From the
righteous we can learn how to be. From the wicked we can learn how not to
be. But the wise man concentrates on that which is above him, not on that
which is below.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.