2002This week's sidra begins with the third Book of Moses, Vayikra. The book is generally known to English speakers as Leviticus, as its narrative centers on the sacrificial system which is to be administered by the descendants of Jacob's son, Levy. The sacrificial system is difficult to grasp, not only because of its many details, but also because it is so alien in form and substance to the religion of contemporary Jewry. The chapters which follow outline the principal forms of worship as they took place in the Tabernacle and later, in both the First and Second Temples. Pious Jews pray daily for the restoration of these rites and understand the current synagogue service, influenced in many ways by the sacrificial system, as but a poor substitute for the glory of the Temple, where the Divine-Human encounter reached it zenith.
And He Called?
Leviticus Chapter 1
1. And the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying,
2. Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, of the herd, and of the flock.
3. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the Tent of Meeting before the Lord.
4. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
5. And he shall kill the bull before the Lord; and the priests, the sons of Aaron, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood around upon the altar that is by the door of the Tent of Meeting.
6. And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces.
7. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire;
8. And the priests, the sons of Aaron, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar;
9. But its entrails and its legs shall he wash in water; and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor to the Lord.
10. And if his offering is of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice; he shall bring a male without blemish.
11. And he shall kill it on the northern side of the altar before the Lord; and the priests, the sons of Aaron, shall sprinkle his blood around upon the altar.
12. And he shall cut it in pieces, with its head and its fat; and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar;
13. But he shall wash the entrails and the legs with water; and the priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar; it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor to the Lord.
The sidra describes some of the sacrifices that were offered, viz:
1. The Olah, or burnt offering: a sacrifice of cattle, sheep, goats or birds. It was to be burned in its entirety as a form of atonement.
2. The Minchah, or meal offering: a sacrifice of grain. This served as a less costly alternative to the Olah.
3. The Zevach Hashlamin, the thanksgiving sacrifice. An offering freely given as an act of adoration. Any of the types of animals used for the olah, could be offered as a zevach hashlamim.
4. The Chatat, or sin offering. This was an animal sacrifice by a person who accidentally commits a sin.
5. The Asham, or guilt offering. This was a sacrifice given, similar to the chatat, but offered by someone who offended against sanctuary property.
Your Torah Navigator
1. Is the notion of animal sacrifice something that you think should be restored? Why or why not? Does God want or need sacrifices?
2. In some of the sacrifices, portions of the animal are eaten after some of the organs are burned. In what ways is this different than kosher slaughter?
3. Do you make sacrifices? What sort?
4. The aleph which ends the first word of the sidra "vayikra," is written in miniature Torah script. One Chasidic master, Rabbi Bunim of P'schish'cha said that this was to honor Moses, who was the humblest person who ever lived. But surely Moses knew that he, as the recipient of the Torah, who speaks with God, was the greatest man in Jewish, if not all of human history. In what sense, therefore, was Moses, humble?
5. Shakespeare wrote (Henry V, Act 3: scene 1):
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage.
Like Henry, Moses was a ruler, lawgiver and warrior. How does this square with the notion of humility? Can a ruler be meek?
Prepared by Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, Director, American University Hillel.