“And he shall place his hand [v”samach yado] upon the head of the elevated offering [”ola]; and it shall be accepted for him, to atone for him.” (Lev. I,9 )
In this column, we shall concentrate upon the idea of s”mikha, placing one”s hand upon the sacrifice.
In the understanding of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, it seems as though s”mikha is a paradoxical term, entailing both “to support” as well as “to be supported”; in his words, “it is a simultaneous giving and gaining.” For the verses containing the term seem puzzling. We are told that G-d is somekh to all who fall (PS. CXLV. 14), and this is ordinarily understood to mean “G-d supports all who fall”. But in most other occurrences of the term, the most natural explanation is “to be supported”, e.g., in den. XXVII.37, when we are told Isaac has caused Jacob to be supported by grain.
This two-fold meaning is preserved in modern Hebrew; compare, e.g., ani somekh oto, “I support him” with hu somekh oti, “he supports me,” or, in paraphrase, “I am supported by him”. The phenomenon is then present in English as well, though less striking than in Hebrew, which commonly alters the root form of the verb (by prefix or suffix) rather than relying upon word order as does English.
The law quoted above requires that the one performing s”mikha do so with all of his strength; and, since it is a relationship as described, this act will automatically call forth a similar effort from the one upon whom s”mikha is performed. This helps reconcile what seemed a looming contradiction with several elements. As Hak”tav V”hakkabala had remarked, s”mikha is a term peculiarly used for one who is exhausted, strengthless, as in the case of Samson and the pillars of the temple. At the same time, we know that the one bringing the sacrifice needs to perform the act of s”mikha with all his strength. This last, R. Berlin had derived from the theory that ‘yado’ here refers to ”strength” rather than ”hand,” thereby incidentally resolving the problem of half-handed support. And yet, as Berlin says there as well, “yad“ is the appelation used for the weaker, left hand, rather than the right, referred to as “yamin”; and why so?– because the left calls forth a conscious effort of strength.
These remarks, fluctuating between the aspect of s”mikha referring to strength and to those implying weakness, are all different facets of a single phenomenon, supporting/being supported: a relationship, rather than the simple conjunction or proximity of two separate elements. For that matter, when one leans upon the sacrifice with all one”s strength, one is not simply symbolizing but instantiating and strengthening one”s “dependence” upon the sacrifice. Should the support be drawn away, one would fall all the harder– would fall, in fact, with the impetus of all one”s strength.
In the case of s”mikha, then, it is literally the case that the degree of dependence, ”weakness”, is exactly equal to one”s strength. As other sacrifices and details of sacrifices demonstrate (e.g., the korban ole v”yored), in the moral realm one is called upon to offer up, in an entirely individualized fashion, that which one has– no more and no less. At the same time one is given assurance of reciprocity on the part of the sacrifice, an equal counter-force which will be exerted to create the relationship of supporting/being supported. The one who has sinned must commit himself to weakness in accordance with his strength, and is assured in return of strength corresponding to his weakness.