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Primordial Man


And G-d called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying:

Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: A man (adam) who shall bring near, from [among] you, an offering to G-d, of the cattle, of the herd and of the flock… it shall be accepted in goodwill [by G-d] from him, to atone for him…

Leviticus 1:1-4

The word the Torah uses here for “man,” adam, is a rather unusual usage—far more common is the synonym ish. The Midrash explains that this is an allusion to Adam, the first man, and is the Torah’s way of teaching us that any offering that is not rightfully one’s own is not accepted by G-d:

“When you bring an offering to Me, be like the first Adam, who could not have stolen from anyone, since he was alone in the world.”[1]

But this, too, is a departure from the norm. Usually, when the Torah wishes to emphasize that a certain mitzvah must be performed with one’s own property, it does so by simply adding the word lachem (“to you”), or the like.[2] Obviously, there is something more to this evocation of the first human being.

When we speak of Adam as one who could not possibly have used someone else’s property, we are referring to the first few hours of his life, following which he shared the world with Eve, Cain and Abel.[3] Thus we are speaking of Adam before he partook of the Tree of Knowledge—of man still unsullied by sin. Indeed, prior to the first transgression of history, man was not only free of sin but also devoid of all intrinsic potential for anything contrary to his mission and purpose in life.[4]

This is the deeper significance of the Torah’s reference to the bearer of an offering as an “Adam.” Most offerings are brought in atonement for a transgression of the divine will. But how does an offering from “the herd and the flock” atone for a soul that has, in effect, reneged on its commitment to G-d, divorcing itself from its source of life and its very raison d’être? Indeed, the gift of an ox or sheep is devoid of meaning, unless it is brought by an adam. Every man, the Torah is saying, harbors in the pith of his soul a pristine “Adam.” Even at the very moment his external self was transgressing the divine will, his inner essence remained loyal to G-d; it was only silenced and suppressed by his baser instincts.[5] It is by accessing this core of purity that man achieves atonement. By unearthing that part of himself that did not sin in the first place and restoring it to its rightful place as the sovereign of his life, man can literally undo past wrongs, bringing to light their ultimately positive function, which is to stimulate his quest for self-betterment and bring him closer to G-d.

When the Adam from within you makes the offering, then the beast from the herd or flock, offered as a representation of your own conquest of your animal self, is accepted in goodwill by the Almighty.[6]

Based on the Rebbe’s talks, Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5732 and 5733 (1972 and 1973)[7]

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber


[1]. Midrash Tanchuma, Tzav 1; Rashi, Leviticus 1:2. See Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXII, pp. 6-9.

[2]. E.g. Leviticus 23:40 and Deuteronomy 16:13 (as per Talmud, Sukkah 27b). Indeed, the Talmud (ibid., 30a) derives the ineligibility of stolen property for an offering from the word mikem (“from you”) in our own verse (as opposed to the Midrash and Rashi, who employ the above-quoted derivation from adam).

[3]. See Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b; Rashi, Genesis 4:1. Cain and Abel owned property independently of their father, as is evidenced by the offerings theybrought to G-d—Genesis 4:3-4

[4]. Kabbalistic and chassidic teaching explain that while evil also existed prior to Adam’s sin, it was a phenomenon outside of the person—thus evil appears in the Garden of Eden in the form of a distinct creature, the “serpent.” Adam’s partaking of the “tree of knowledge (daat, meaning intimate knowledge and identification) of good and evil” resulted in the internalization of evil as a component drive and inclination within the human psyche (see note 3 of Clearing the Rubble, in last week’s issue ofWeek In Review).

[5]. Tanya, ch. 24. See Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce, 2:20.

[6]. Thus Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains the seemingly awkward construction of the second verse of Leviticus, quoted above. Why does the Torah write “a man who shall bring near, from you, an offering…” (adam ki yakriv mikem korban), instead of the more grammatically fluent “a man from you who shall bring near an offering…” (adam mikem ki yakriv korban )? But the Torah wishes to emphasize that the offering is to be brought “from you.” The person must be offering something from within himself to G-d—something of which the offered calf or lamb is but the tactile representation (Likkutei Torah, Vayikra 2b-d; cf. Talmud, Menachot 110a; Rashi, Leviticus 1:17 and 2:1; Nachmanides, ibid., 1:9; Sforno, ibid., verse 2; et al).

[7]. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XVII, pp. 9-15.


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