March 6, 2014
This week we start the third book of the Torah, Vayikra. The book is referred to as the Laws of the Priests, since it deals to a great extent with the sacrifices in the Temple (or Mishkan) and other laws of puriy and impurity.
Let us look at the following comment by Rashi on the meal offering.
14. When you bring a meal offering of the first grains to the Lord, you shall bring your first grain meal offering [from barley], as soon as it ripens, parched over the fire, kernels full in their husks, [ground into] coarse meal. יד. וְאִם תַּקְרִיב מִנְחַת בִּכּוּרִים לַיהֹוָה אָבִיב קָלוּי בָּאֵשׁ גֶּרֶשׂ כַּרְמֶל תַּקְרִיב אֵת מִנְחַת בִּכּוּרֶיךָ:
Rashi: When you bring: Heb. וְאִם תַּקְרִיב Now, the word אִם [here] has the meaning of כִּי, “when,” because this is not optional, for the Torah is referring to the מִנְחַת הָעֹמֶר [the omer meal-offering, a community sacrifice brought on the sixteenth of Nissan,] which is obligatory. [Thus, the verse reads: “When you bring…”]. — [Torat Kohanim 2:148] Likewise, “And when (וְאִם) the Jubilee…will be” (Num. 36:4), [and not “if the Jubilee…will be”].
ואם תקריב: הרי אם משמש בלשון כי, שהרי אין זה רשות, שהרי במנחת העומר הכתוב מדבר, שהיא חובה, וכן (במדבר לו ד) ואם יהיה היובל וגו’:
Rashi tells us that although the word ‘Im’ usually means ‘if,’ in this verse it cannot mean that. The bringing of the first fruits offering is not optional nor conditional on our desire. It must be brought. So in this case the word ‘im’ must mean ‘when.’
The Ramban differs with Rashi and says that one need not change the ordinary meaning of ‘im’ in this verse. He knows of course that the first-fruits offering is obligatory. But he says we must see the whole chapter here to get the correct understanding of this verse.
Chapter 2 begins by discussing the meal offerings. Then it describes various types of meal offerings. Verse 5 says, “If your offering is a pan-baked meal offering, then it shall be etc.” Verse 7 says, “If your offering is a deep-pan meal offering, then it shall be etc.” We see, says the Ramban, that the Torah is outlining the requirements of different types of meal offerings. The first-fruits meal offering is but one of the possible meal offerings. So, when the word ‘im’ (if) is used, it means “if the meal offering that is being brought is the first fruits offering, then it must be etc.” This does not mean that the offering is optional, it only means that ‘if’ we are discussing the first-fruits offering, then it must be such and such.
The Ramban seems to have a point.
However, if you read verses 5 and 7 carefully, you will see that they differ from our verse in a significant way. Both those verses begin “If your offering is etc.,” which means it is discussing a choice of possible types of meal offerings. But our verse is different; it begins, “If you will offer etc.” But we cannot say ‘If you will offer,’ because you must offer the first-fruits offering. Rashi was sensitive to this slight difference in phrasing which gives a different emphasis to the words. Therefore he says here ‘im’ must be interpreted to mean ‘when’ not ‘if.’
We have already had the classic case of where אם means when and not if in Shemot 22:24
When you will lend money to My people…….
(שמות כב, כד): “אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי, אֶת הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ, לֹא תִהְיֶה לוֹ כְּנֹשֶׁה”. ומבאר רש”י בשם המכילתא: אין כוונת הפסוק לומר שאם תרצה אז כסף תלווה את עמי מדין רשות, אלא חובה היא להלוות לחבירו. וכוונת הפסוק שאם מזדמן לך עני שצריך הלוואה, חייב אתה להלוות לו
The question remains. Why did the Torah write ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ , making it sound optional?
The answer is simple. Although the Torah demands that you do a good deed, it still wants you to feel that it was your idea, your choice. The Torah understood the psychology of man. Or as the Tur put it, its easier to give charity if you think of yourself as God’s treasurer.