When you think about the most exciting parts of the Torah and Judaism, the cold hard truth is that the book of Vayikra probably isn’t on too many people’s highlight reels. It’s hard to get too worked up about the census; the architecture, construction, and layout of the Mishkan; the sacrifices; the holidays; Shemita and Yovel; and the other miscellaneous sections that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

Of course, that’s not to say that they’re not important – they absolutely are. But unlike, say, most of Bereishis and Shemos, it’s not story or character driven, so the lessons and morals are much less obvious.

The Torah offers a beautiful exposition of blessings and bounty that follow from observing the Torah, and a gruesomely detailed description of all the terrible things that might befall the Jewish People should they fail to uphold the law properly.

What immediately follows this grim reading is an abrupt change of tone, a ponderous section about the valuation of pledges – Parsha Archin.

When the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash stood, they maintained a public fund for operations and maintenance, which people could contribute to. Aside from cash, people could pledge property; animals; and interestingly, humans. There are volumes of tomes that discuss the exact parameters of how it works, but essentially, all individuals have a particular value, so donating a person would entail calculating their value, and simply redeeming that value by contributing the equivalent amount to the public fund.

We could make peace with the notion that the Torah is like all things; some parts are more interesting, and some less. Some parts are impactful stories, and some parts are technical and arcane laws. But what if it isn’t, and there is a flow to the apparently miscellaneous appendices?

The Ishbitza suggests that if we find the technical details of the census, architecture, and sacrifices riveting, the Torah showers us with blessings, which is great.

But if instead, our eyes glaze over, and we become disenchanted with the arcane technicalities the Torah charges us with, the intimidating future the Torah predicts for us is that our world will fall apart with curses and suffering.

It is precisely this doom and misery that the Torah addresses by giving us the laws of valuations here.

The Ishbitza suggests that the idea of redemption should be understood more broadly. Faced with a disheartening list of punishments, the Torah tells us that all is lost; people are still worth something.

All humans have a fundamental and intrinsic inalienable worth that can never be destroyed.

Sukkos is the festival of happiness. The two prominent mitzvos of Sukkos are sitting in the Sukka and shaking the Lulav and Esrog.

What do these laws have to teach us about happiness?

The Ishbitzer notes that the mitzvah of Sukka is passive, fulfilled by sitting or sleeping; whereas the mitzvah of Lulav and Esrog is performed by actively gathering the items and waving them.

We have innate abilities we are passively born with, but there are also things we actively acquire through perspiration and perseverance.

This active/passive framework sheds light on various nuances in how we observe these laws. A stolen lulav does not fulfill the mitzvah; whereas there is no such thing as a stolen Sukka – you cannot embezzle something innate. It similarly follows that on Shabbos, the day we curtail creative activity, we observe Sukka, but not Lulav – all our creative activity can only hope to succeed with God’s blessing.

R’ Chaim Brown notes that we must actively gather the Lulav and Esrog, which is traditionally understood to symbolize the different kinds of Jews – unity is not something innate that we can take for granted; we must create unity through our actions.

To the Ishbitzer, happiness is when we synthesize our active and passive skills and talents into one cohesive whole – when we appreciate the gifts we are born with, change what we can, and accept what we can’t.

While we don’t control our starting points, we do control our trajectories from there.

Existence is a fusion of time, space and consciousness, and all have associations with light.

Hashem created time. Time is measured in increments of 7, culminated by Shabbos. Shabbos is welcomed with candles.

Hashem created the universe. Within it, the earth, within it Israel, within it Jerusalem, within it the Beis HaMikdash, containing the Menora. This relates to space.

Hashem created life. Within it, the human race, within it the nation of Israel, within it Levi, within it the Kohanim, and ultimately, the Cohen Gadol, whose job includes lighting the Menora.

The light is symbolic of Hashgacha Klalis, Hashem’s supervision in a general sense, over all things. But on Chanuka, we light individual lights, each person for themselves. The light is lit at the door, indicating that our comings and goings, our entire lives, are for the sake of Heaven.

What Chanuka changed was that we show that each person can have connection, a Hashgacha Pratis. We just have to seek it out.

In parentheses, the Ishbitzer adds that there are three mitzvos that are disqualified if they are too high; Sukka, Eruv and Menora. They respectively relate to space, time, and consciousness. They have to be related to in a personal, individual way, and Chanuka shows the way.

One of the daily features of the Mishkan service was the service of preparing and lighting the Menora. The Torah highlights that Ahron took the ceremony deeply seriously:

דַּבֵּר, אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, וְאָמַרְתָּ, אֵלָיו: בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ, אֶת-הַנֵּרֹת, אֶל-מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה, יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת. וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן, אַהֲרֹן–אֶל-מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה, הֶעֱלָה נֵרֹתֶיהָ: כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה – Speak to Ahron, and say to him; “When you rise to light the Menora, light seven candles.” Ahron did so; he lit the candles on the Menora, just as Hashem had commanded Moshe. (8:2-3)

But if you think about it for a minute, it’s a little odd to say that Ahron followed his instructions – וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן / כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה. What is so noteworthy about doing what he was supposed to do – how else would he light the Menora?

Picking up on this strange remark, Rashi quotes the Sifri that Ahron performed his duties scrupulously, precisely the way he was told for the rest of his life, and never changed or deviated in any way.

R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshischa notes that as much as the comment is about Ahron not changing how he performed his duties, it’s equally a comment about how his duties didn’t change him. Some people let privilege and honor get to their heads – but not Ahron.

The Sfas Emes notes that lighting the Menora wasn’t a particularly prestigious ceremony, in that any Kohen could kindle the lights; but Ahron took it seriously enough that he insisted on doing it himself every day for the rest of his life.

Mastery is typically boring. Finishing your fiftieth marathon is probably less special than your first.

It’s normal.

The Ishbitza notes that the highest praise for Ahron is that he retained that initial desire, and it never got stale or boring for him. He kept challenging himself to find something new and exciting, so he lit the Menora his last time with the same enthusiasm as the first.

The more we experience something, the more our enthusiasm and attention typically wane. Predictability and comfort put an end to fresh euphoria; when we know what to expect, our excitement wears off and boredom sets in. That’s why we need to keep things fresh if we’re focused on a long term project or goal.

It’s something often seen with young professional athletes who lose their way – they think they’ve made it, and stop putting in the work that would take them to the elite tier; and the older pros all comment that the youngsters have lost their concentration and focus.

The highest form of mastery is in valuing each repetition and finding the novelty and excitement in it.

By being fully present in each moment, and devoting your undivided attention, things won’t get boring.

On the Seder plate, there is a designated section for an egg. All the sections have a more obvious role; but the egg’s place is less clear.

The Ishbitzer teaches that the egg is symbolic of the nascent Jewish nation; like an egg requires nurturing and warmth to hatch, so the newly formed nation was, on its way to “hatching” at Mount Sinai, upon receiving the Torah.

The Rema says that this is the very same egg as on 9 Av, and points out that the fast of 9 Av will always be on the same day of the week as the first night of Pesach. But there is more to it than that.

Avraham was told his descendants would be enslaved in Egypt. When they left Egypt, the Torah recounts how וּמוֹשַׁב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָשְׁבוּ
בְּמִצְרָיִם שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה – the settlement of the Jews in Egypt lasted 430 years (12:40). Not commonly cited, is that “only” 86 of the years spent in Egypt were spent in slavery, which Miriam’s birth marked (hence her name, meaning “bitter”). The early departure was forced because the Jews were mired in the depths of decadence, the 49th level of impurity, beyond which they could not be saved. They had to leave early, if they were ever to leave.

But this means that only one fifth of the prophesied 430 years of slavery was spent in actual slavery. This is slightly hinted to when Yosef interpreted the butler’s dream, where he described how he’d squeezed grapes for Paroh. In the dialogue, the word כוס appears four times. Figuratively, Yosef announced that when the cup was squeezed into, he would walk free, and the same with the Jews in Egypt, that when they were “squeezed” into the כוס – 86 – they walked free. That only one fifth of the time was served is one the explanations of the bizarre word וחמושים – also a source that many Jews did not live to escape Egypt, perishing in the darkness.

The deficit in time is 344 – the word כוס multiplied four times, the numerical value of שמד – disaster. On 9 Av, the Torah portion we read berates us and says שָּׁמֵד תִּשָּׁמֵדוּן – we owe for our early, forced departure from egypt. And on the eve of 9 Av, we eat an egg, in memory of the destruction and imperfection of the world.

As the Rema says, this is the very same egg as on 9 Av. We left early, but leaving Egypt was not the perfect redemption, which we still await. We remind ourselves of this with the egg we eat before 9 Av.