Vayikra (Leviticus) 6,
1 - 8, 35
- Themes and mitzvot in the parasha
- The parasha deals with the sacrifices
offered by the priests in the sanctuary
- Commentary on the role of sacrifices
- A precautionary note
- The meaning of sacrifices
- Rapprochement and intention
- Personal and collective development
Study and prayer
- A set of precise instructions
- Brutality in lieu of sacrifice
- Commentary on the ola (burnt offering)
- Stages involved
Themes and mitzvot in the parasha
The parasha deals with the duties linked
to the sacrifices which were carried out in the sanctuary.
Mitzvot 132 to 149 are found here. They deal with the laws
governing the ashes and the fire that was kept continually
burning on the altar, the parts of the offering eaten by the
priests, the composition of the incense, the daily offering,
the prohibition against eating the guilt-offering, the fat
and the blood.
presents these themes in order:
- the sacrifice of the ola (badly translated as burnt-offering,
for it means "risen")
- the sacrifice of minha, the meal-offering
- the high priest's sacrifice when he is anointed
- the sacrifice of hatat, the sin-offering
- the sacrifice of asham, the guilt-offering
- the directions for carrying out the ola
- the sacrifice of zevah hashelamim, the peace-offering and
- the prohibition against eating the helev, fat and blood
- the directions for making a sacrifice
- the consecration of Aharon and his sons, the cohanim
- the fact that Aaron and his sons did what Hashem commanded
on the meaning of sacrifices
The subject of sacrifices is one that is easily prone to misunderstanding
if it is not studied through the traditional masters. It is
easy -without knowing anything about sacrifices - to have
preconceptions about a subject that seems to involve primitive
The study of the Torah demands of us thought that is based
on the teachings we have received.
The role of
This commentary can apply to the following parasha, for the
whole of Vayikra deals with one subject, the Cohanim, the
priests, and the Levites. The role of sacrifices is found
within the general goal of bettering the people and the world
- this is the function of the priests and that of the Jewish
people who are the Cohanim for the rest of the world.
This is why Vayikra is called: Torat Cohanim, the Torah of
the Cohen, the laws of the priests.
If we examine the rites described in the parasha from the
perspective where the priests have a particular function among
the people and in all of creation, we shall see them in a
We shall study
some of the traditional commentaries on sacrifices, as summarized
by the Shla
(R. Moshe ben Maimon, 1135-1204) notes that many nations make
sacrifices and their function is part of the fight against
idolatry. Since idolatry has disappeared, they no longer have
a function. The tosafists and most commentators oppose this
view. We shall see that sacrifices have many other functions.
2. The Ramban (R. Moshe ben Nahman, 1194-1270), in his commentary
on Vayikra 1, 9, criticizes Maimonides'position and finds
3. He says that sacrifices aim to correct our sins and cover
three areas: thought, speech and action.
4. He stresses the preventive function of sacrifices for not
everyone commits the sins involved.
5. The animal that is sacrificed is a substitute (temura)
and stands for (halfin) man and his sins.
6. Sacrifices are a way of recognizing one's errors, says
Ribbi Menahem Recanati (a renowned kabbalist commentator of
the 13th century) in relation to Vayikra 2, 1: venefesh ki
takriv korban, when a person sacrifices himself as an offering.
Through this substitute, man can elevate his will to the level
of the will of God.
7. The sacrifice is called minha (meal-offering) for it represents
an anaha (a reduction of the punishment).
8. Each animal that is designated for a particular sacrifice,
plays a specific role and cannot be replaced by any other,
just as the Jewish people cannot be replaced by any other
and just like the 4-letter name for God is the one that is
used in our prayers and not any other (R. Shimon ben Azzai
and the Ramban).
9. The Zohar demonstrates that a sacrifice makes the name
of God complete and it is then permeated with a pleasant smell
10. Ribbi Menahem Recanati notes that sacrifices have a parallel
in the animals of Ezekiel's vision. This means that whatever
we do in this world has its parallel in the world above and
this is why all our actions must be accompanied by prayer
(Tractate Berakhot, page 14).
11. The four elements of nature are found in sacrifices: this
is in order to perfect the process of elevation.
12. Important meanings are attributed to the fact that certain
sacrifices are consumed by the altar, others by the cohen,
and others by the person who brings the offering. Whether
an animal is male or female is also significant. (Your rabbi
will tell you in which book you can study these commentaries.)
There are also sacrifices for involuntary sins (het) and sins
associated with expulsion from the community (karet), as opposed
to the guilt-sacrifices.
13. The question of whether a sin was committed intentionally
or not is a very important factor to be taken into account
in the choice of sacrifices. This is essential for the person
making the offering and for the priest to have the correct
attitude and intention. A sacrifice is an act of conscience,
not an act of brutality.
14. In his book, the Kuzari, Ribbi Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141)
demonstrates to non-Jewish philosophers that the word sacrifice
in Hebrew means "rapprochement" (to draw close)
and that the function of sacrifices is to draw a person closer
to the Creator. Just as a body needs food, so the soul needs
a body to strengthen it and to raise it to the highest level
which is the neshama.
15. Now that the Temple is no more, the altar has been replaced
by our table, and sacrifices by our prayers; for prayer is
called avoda, work.
16. Commentaries at a higher level show that certain sacrifices
refer to particular figures: Adam, Noah, Avraham, Moshe, Aharon,
The above shows us that sacrifices have three important characteristics:
direction, rapprochement, and destination. It is a process
of moving from the inner realm to the outer realm.
le, which means "towards" often accompanies the
word sacrifice (korban laShem) and signifies a process of
drawing close to Hashem. This process is also found in the
concept of a "pleasant perfume" (reah nihoah).
Those who are not prepared to undertake this difficult process
of elevation tend to deny the real meaning of sacrifices,
claiming that they are just acts of butchery and cruelty,
and suppressing their deep impulses and emotions.
and collective development
What is important is the impulse, the act, the rapprochement,
the direction, and the elevation till one reaches the pleasant
perfume. Thus the Song of Songs ends with the word perfume
The fact that this process begins at the most primitive and
animal level allows every level to be attained.
conclusion follows from this: sacrifices are an educational
prototype that mark the transformation of what is material
and brutal in our lives to what is emotional and elevated.
This process should be applied to all our daily actions.
detail with which the Torah describes the different sacrifices
and what can be eaten or not, has the aim, over and above
its literal meaning, of urging us to pay attention to our
tiniest actions, for they can easily become devoid of meaning
instead of being filled with emotion.
also contribute an element of reality in religious practice,
for they are real acts that cost a lot and provide no material
benefit. This means they have a great effect for nothing affects
most men more than money. The Talmud says that some men think
only of money, even on their deathbeds.
thus bring our entire being closer to the level of the Creator
and the world above.
Let us pray
that Jerusalem will be fully rebuilt as the dwelling place
of the Torah: the sanctuary on the mountain (har habayit,
mountain of His home) to which every day, and from time immemorial,
Jews have directed their prayers, for the happiness of all
nations and all creation.
journey, from the time that Jews were slaves in Egypt to their
liberation and the revelation at Sinai, is what we recall
during the Pesah seder, with the promise to study the Torah
and consecrate it in Jerusalem. The Pesah sacrifice should
encompass our entire being and history, and we should try
to say no more: "next year in Jerusalem" as we did
for centuries, but say instead "soon in Jerusalem."
Amen ken yehi ratzon.
the Temple is no more and the essential role it plays for
the Jewish people can no longer be carried out: the sacred
places of the tribes of Israel and the special places of the
cohanim are occupied. Miraculously, we won them back after
a war launched against us by our enemies, and we could have
kept them according to international law. But the generals
who had fought the war and our leaders did not know the importance
of these places and, to the surprise of the enemy, we gave
them back the keys and the right to the Temple Mount. This
indicates where the Jewish people stand today in regard to
their heritage and that the time of the fulfillment of our
dreams has not yet come.
We have the duty to replace sacrifices with the study of the
texts that describe them. Every morning, during the prayers
of shaharit, Jews read the passages from Tractates Yoma and
Keritut which describe the various sacrifices, and chapter
30 of Shemot and 28 of Bamidbar. Refer to your siddur, prayer
The fact that
these texts form an introduction to the prayers means that
we must purify ourselves before praying, and examine and correct
ourselves by drawing closer to the Creator.
A set of precise
An important point needs to be made: this process is not psychotherapy
or a pedagogic tool, for the parasha begins and ends with
the word "tzav" and all of this has been "commanded."
Why? Because man has the tendency to believe that he rules
all things -- himself, the world, his thoughts and his decisions
- and to deny the origin of creation. In psychology, this
is called "hatred of the father:" it is self-hatred
because it is hatred of one's origin and one's source. If
we do not examine every day our negative impulses and thoughts
and re-direct them towards the Creator, they will direct themselves
against others or against ourselves in a destructive way.
people abandoned these sacrifices and destroyed the Temple
as the center of their lives. How? Through their intransigence,
hatred of each other, disrespect for the holiness of the land
of Israel and lack of social justice. As a result (the Torah
and the prophets warn us repeatedly of this), other nations
are authorized to take over our land.
has replaced the sacrifice
Similarly, the rest of the world, which claims to have progressed
from the level of sacrifices and religious rites, does not
understand that it simply replaced these rites with the brutal
rites of war and bloodshed. It devotes the best of its men
and resources to war. Nations who believe they are among the
most civilized and enlightened in the world, and who brandish
the words "human rights" "democracy" "civilization,"
are also the most barbaric and will not hesitate to use war
as a tool for their cultural, economic and military domination
of the world.
slogans are based on lies, war and the absence of an ordered
way of regulating personal and collective life, then they
become perverse and destructive.
Although the world believes it has come a long way from the
era of animal sacrifices, it is, in fact, an immense slaughterfield
run by political cynics. Who profits? The Western world. Furthermore,
not content with having replaced animal sacrifices with human
sacrifices, the world takes pleasure from watching these massacres.
It is important
to say this, in order to understand the wisdom of Jewish laws
and tradition: every morning, Jews must examine their thoughts
and actions and redirect them towards God. Otherwise these
thoughts and actions become destructive and engulf all of
society. These warnings and teachings are in our texts and
this is what the book of Vayikra teaches us. This is why Vayikra
is at the center of the Torah. It is taught to children, before
the other books, such is its importance.
on the ola
Let us then try to analyze these sacrifices, not as rites,
but as representing a process of self-examination.
The role of
The ola is burnt entirely except for the skin and no part
is eaten thereof.
- sins of thought
- non-adherence to the mitzvot
The stages involved in making sacrifices
- habaa: purchasing the animal and bringing it to the sanctuary,
- semikha: the laying of hands on the head of the animal,
which represents the union of body and will,
- vidui: confession and recognition of our sins,
- shehita: the slaying of the animal by a Jew or a cohen,
in the Northern area of the Temple which represents our material
side. The different stages of preparation of the animal.
- meliha: the salting of the animal, symbolizing the feeling
we put in the rite,
- haktara: the combustion which "elevates" everything
that has been prepared within and without,
- minha: the meal-offerings of flour, oil, and wine which
must accompany each sacrifice.
1. Re-read the parasha and study the references.
2. Examine how the different facets of our lives (thoughts,
sins, etc.) which were governed by sacrifices, are dealt with
3. Try to identify rites which you practice in your daily
life (in your families, in society etc.) and which regulate
4. See how the patriarchs, before the revelation at Sinai,
re-directed their feelings and actions towards God through
Bereshit 6,3-4; 8, 20; 12, 13; 12, 17; 26, 26; 28, 20; 35,
14; 45, 1.
5. Recommended reading: the section that deals with sacrifices
in our daily prayers.
6. Discuss this commentary with friends and use it as a basis
for group study.