Newsletter #11, 2015

Parasha Vayikra וַיִּקְרָא (Levítico 1:1-5:26)

This week’s Torah portion begins with the third book of the Torah and has the same name: וַיִּקְרָא Vayikra (Leviticus). This parashah explains the types of offerings, standards, laws and conduct that the Cohanim must follow.vayikra3
Different offerings (korbanot) were offered first to the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and then in the Temple (Beit HaMikdash). Many of these are known as korbanot Nedava (voluntary offerings).
The word korban has different interpretations. To some it means to approach God, for others it means sacrifice. There are different categories.
The first part of the parsha describes the various voluntary offerings to be brought by individuals, of which can be classified into three general categories, each in turn divided into several levels according to the size and cost:
the Korban Olah (offering of elevation), which was completely consumed on the altar;
the Korban Mincha (food offering), which because of its reduced size, was usually brought by people with low incomes and
the Korban Shelamim (peace offering) partially burned on the altar and the rest divided between givers and priests.
The second half of the parsha, beginning with Chapter 4 discusses the Jatat (sin) and Asham (guilt) offerings to be brought for atonement and for unintentional transgressions.
For me one of the aspects that intrigues me most is the symbolism of the offerings, where in verse 9, it says “sacrifice (consumed by fire), a pleasing scent before Adonai”. Why does God ask that these offerings be done by the fire of the altar as a way to approach him or as expiation of sins?vayikra4
By the standards of the time, people were used to making offerings to their gods through fire, sacrifice and incense. Then, according to what Maimonides wrote in his book The Guide for the Perplexed, ordering the sacrifices was a way to approach the people and to start teaching them. Maimonides also explains that God does not change the behavior of people through miracles, but guides us to overcome our negative impulses. The purpose of the ritual sacrifices in the Torah, according to Maimonides, is to uproot pagan customs among the people of Israel. For example, the idolaters offered their idols leavened bread and sweets and honey mixed with their offerings. This is forbidden in the laws in Vayikra. There can be no leaven or yeast (except in the offering of first fruits) nor honey nor sweet things. Also it is supposed that to leaven symbolically means to ferment bad morals. Others, like Arbabanel, think that this prohibition is more likely due to technical problems.
Salt, however, was a very important element. First of all, it supposed a difference to the idolaters´ sacrifices, because they never used salt. It also served as a sterilizer and purifier. Besides changing the taste, it also helps remove the blood. In verse 13 it says “And you shall salt every one of your meal offering sacrifices with salt, and you shall not omit the salt of your God’s covenant from [being placed] upon your meal offerings. You shall offer salt on all your sacrifices.” (Lev. 2:13).
It is interesting to note that the altar fire had to be permanently burning. Two logs were added in the morning and two in the evening. But curiously, wood from the olive tree or grape vine could not be used. It is evident because of the fact that these are two elements that are virtually sacred to the Jewish people.
According to Maimonides, the large animals that were offered up, ox, sheep and goats, were symbols of idolatry among the other nations, so then to use them in the sacrifice was a way to remove this importance. Others also think they were to show financial standing. But also, for those who were unable to offer one of these animals, there was always the possibility of offering pigeons or doves. These had to be offered without plucking.
Among the laws described in this parshah, one thing that strikes me is the fact that the grease or fat be burned instead of eaten. “[This is] an eternal statute for all your generations, in all your dwelling places: You shall not eat any fat or any blood.” (Lev. 3:17) According to Maimonides, tallow disturbed digestion and produced a thick cold blood.
Shabbat Shalom! ~~~~~~~~ Deborah and Ahuvah

The humbleness of Moses and the small alef
The Massoretic sign in the alef of Vayikra is small, and that alef appears only once in the entire Tanach. This small alef alludes to the humble nature of Moses Rabbeinu. Because of the great humbleness of Moses, he did not want to write “Vayikra”, rather he wanted to write “Vayikar” without the alef, which means “And he appeared,” as is written in the the Torah concerning Balaam the wicked, lehavdil, “Vayikar Elohim el Balaam “(And Elohim came to Balaam, Num. 23: 4), but God told Moses,” No! You must write Vayikra (And he called him), you’re not Balaam, God forbid.
When someone commits a wrong action and reveals his or her misbehavior, that person must show humility instead of trying to minimize the importance and make excuses for what was done, (seeking justifications rather than admit their guilt or error). That is proving that their pride is above all and does not allow for apologizing for their wrongdoing. All of his or her fellows, therefore, have a very low opinion of this person.

Read the latest newsletter from the European Union for Progressive Judaism. Click here to read and download.

Read this week´s commentary by Rabbi Sheryl Nosan-Lantzke, Founding Rabbi of Jewish Spirituality Australia and The Hebrew Mini-Miracle Five-Hour Courseva Region. Torah from Around the World #264 de la WUPJ.

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