If his offering is a bird…he shall sever its head

Vayikra 1:14–15


When a person brings an offering, he is supposed to relate to the animal and realize that what happens to it is what the person, himself, really deserves.[1]


When a bird is brought as a sin offering, the head is severed by a method called melika. The neck is broken from the back to remind us not to be too stiff-necked, to be ready to change our sinful ways.[2] However, when doing melika, the person must take great care not to sever the dove’s head entirely,[3] for the mind is always meant to lead the heart[4] and must never be completely removed from it. We are to remind ourselves that our sins would not have occurred had we let our intellects lead the way, and compelled our hearts and emotions to follow.


The Torah often refers to the intellect as lev, heart.[5] Why? Rav Avigdor Miller[6] explains that what one knows is only truly called knowledge when it penetrates the heart. So long as information is only in your brain and remains separated from your heart and actions, it is just chunks of data. Until the information collected is also felt with the emotions, knowledge is incomplete.


If you see someone insult another person’s mother, you know they have done something wrong. But when someone insults your own mother, your heart begins to beat faster; you are ready to leap to her defense! Your emotions are in sync with your brain – your knowledge has penetrated your heart. You don’t just know that this is wrong, you really know it through and through.


Ultimately, the journey of a Jewish life is this very journey of bringing information from the intellect to the emotions: “You have known today, and you shall bring it home to your heart, that Hashem is the Lord, there is none other than Him.”[7] In this way, the mind influences and leads the emotions.


There is a nation whose entire reason for existence is to challenge the mind-heart connection. This is Amalek, whose essence is the separation of head from heart – am, “nation,” and malak, like the word melika.[8] They are a people of melika, of heads that are severed, for they refuse to allow what they know in their minds to reach their hearts or actions.[9] This quality was inherited from their ancestor Esav,[10] who had his head in the right place[11] and knew right from wrong, but did not allow that wisdom to influence him.


Thus, the nation of Amalek knew that they could not win if they attacked the Jewish people in the desert,[12] yet they would not allow this information to penetrate beyond the intellectual plane. This was also the driving force behind Haman’s attack on the Jewish people in the time of Queen Esther: in true Amalekite fashion, Haman consistently acted against his own best interests by not allowing his brain to impact his emotions.[13]


A major weapon in Amalek’s arsenal is doubt. Doubting the facts is an all-too-effective way of allowing a person to ignore the truth and let emotions take over. Not surprisingly, the gematria of Amalek is 240, the same as safek, “doubt.”[14] Thus, our job is to fight doubt by knowing the facts and translating that knowledge into faith (knowledge of the heart).


“And they stood at the bottom of the mountain.”[15] The Sages teach: “Hashem held the mountain over them like a barrel.[16] When the Jews stood at Sinai, Hashem said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, all is well. If not, your graves will be here.’ Since then, there was a great[17] weakness in the [relationship the Jewish people had with] Torah. However, they accepted it once again in the time of Achashveirosh, as the verse says, ‘The Jews fulfilled and accepted upon themselves and their children’[18] – [meaning that] they fulfilled what they had already accepted long ago.”[19]


How are we to understand this bizarre history? How can the Torah be given by force? Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk[20] explains that the Jewish people were forced into a relationship with Torah by the clarity they experienced. At Sinai, there was no doubt about what was true and what was not. The Jewish people saw the reality of God and Torah clearly, and this clarity of vision compelled them to accept the truth. It was obvious to them were they not to accept the Torah, they would be no better than empty bodies and the world could not continue to exist. The facts were clear.


However, there is a weakness in making an important decision based purely on a rational analysis of the facts. The mind, while reasonably strong, lacks the power of the passionate heart. A man who chooses a wife according to a well-thought-out plan has a different relationship from the person who makes his choice out of love, even though the emotions of love have a distressing habit of muddying the facts. The Jewish people, understanding so clearly the truth and necessity of Torah, missed the opportunity to really get their emotions wrapped up in Hashem and His Torah.


Until Purim.


The Purim story was the chance for the Jews to take the relationship that was based upon rational facts and inject some passion into it.


The Purim story occurred in a time of darkness, in an exile where the Jewish people could not clearly see the hand of God. His name is not even mentioned in the Megillah! While the Purim experience was a time when, intellectually, things were not as clear as they had been in the past, this created an emotional opportunity to connect using the heart.


Thus, it was Amalek, represented by their descendant Haman, who came to attack us. Armed with knowledge of right and wrong, he ignored it. The Jewish reaction, however, was exactly the opposite: even when there could be doubts cast upon right and wrong in the darkness of exile, we allowed our minds to guide our hearts. We internalized, we really felt, what was right – “‘The Jews fulfilled and accepted upon themselves and their children’[21] – [meaning that] they fulfilled what they had already accepted long ago.”[22]


When all is sunny and one makes a commitment, he may need to wait for the cloudy times until he discovers the depth of his commitment. That is the connection that solidifies a relationship. It is the commitment that lasts, the one that gives depth. It is a commitment based upon the heart having internalized the intellect. When a person remains committed even in times of darkness – in sickness and in health – that is a triumph of intellect working with passion.


“One is obligated to inebriate himself on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between how cursed Haman is, and how blessed Mordechai is.”[23] When we get that drunk, we are dismissing our minds. Purim is a time to let the heart show how well it has internalized the lessons of the mind. Only when we have a little less clarity of mind can we demonstrate how deep our commitment really runs.


When we do that right, Haman is hung.


Rabbi Yisrael Salanter once said, “The greatest distance between any two points is the distance that separates our minds from our hearts.”


When you bring a sin offering, make sure that the head of that bird is still connected to the body. In order to avoiding sinning again next time, you need to keep your head connected. Still, there is an important lesson in severing the head, as well. All of that knowledge isn’t worth much unless it enters our hearts. After all, our hearts are what Hashem really wants from us.[24]
[1] Sefer Hachinuch, 124

[2] Ibid.

[3] Vayikra 5:8, Chullin 21b

[4] Noam Hamitzvos, Mitzvah 124

[5] Radak and Ibn Ezra to Tehillim 16:9

[6] Sing You Righteous, p. 16

[7] Dvarim 4:39. See Chochmah Umussar, vol. 1, p. 128 of R. Simcha Z. Ziv, the Alter of Kelm.

[8] Torah Ohr (of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi) to Tetzaveh, p. 85

[9] See Chiddushei Harim cited in Likkutei Yehuda to Shelach, where he explains that when the Torah tells us that “Amalek dwells in the South” (Bamidbar 13:29), this is because the south is often associated with wisdom, and Amalek is wise, for he knows right from wrong. He just refuses to let that knowledge penetrate into his heart.

[10] Likkutei Maamarim of R. Tzadok of Lublin, 16; Shem Mishmuel, Tetzaveh/Shushan Purim, s.v. bigemara

[11] Esav’s head was buried in the Cave of Machpelah (see Targum Yonason to Bereishis 50:13). Arizal wrote that Esav’s head was connected to holiness; see Yaaros Devash 2:15. See also Derech Sicha of R. Chaim Kanievsky, vol. 1, p. 100; Mareh Hapanim to Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:2 and Ben Yehoyada to Eruvin 53a.

[12] Rashi on Dvarim 25:18, s.v. asher karcha

[13] See also the comments of Sfas Emes to Yisro, 5641, s.v. bimidrash, where he explains that Amalek is called a scoffer by the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 27:10) because the nature of scoffing is that one makes light of even what is evidently the truth.

[14] See Zohar, vol. 2, 65a, “Hashem said, ‘You said, “Is Hashem among us, or not?” I will put you into the hands of the dog’; and right then, ‘And Amalek arrived.’”

[15] Shemos 19:17

[16] Regarding the significance of the barrel, see R. Yosef Yoizel, the Alter of Novhardok’s Madregas Haadam, “Tikkun Hamidos,” p 27. See also Daas Zekenim and Rosh to Dvarim 32:10, who understand that the concept of the mountain being like a barrel was described in the Torah (Dvarim 32:10) as “You surrounded them.”

[17] The word “great” here is, in fact, understood by Chida in his Dvash Lifi (mem, 29) to mean “insignificant.” For, we find, regarding the Kiddush of Shabbos day, which is less important than the one at night, and is called Kiddusha rabbah, “the great Kiddush,” for in Rabbinic Aramaic, often something is called by its extreme opposite, a blind person is called sagi nahor, “one with much light,” and so on. (See Maggid Mishnah to Rambam’s Hilchos Shabbos, ch. 29.)

[18] Esther 9:27

[19] Shabbos 88a

[20] Meshech Chochmah, Shemos 19:17

[21] Esther 9:27

[22] Shabbos 88a

[23] Megillah 7b

[24] Sanhedrin 106b