Blog Vayikra 9 Adar ll 5779 בלוג וַיִּקְרָא, ט’ אדר ב’ תשע”ט
The events of Vayikra (Leviticus) take place in the first month of the second year after leaving Egypt; the Hebrew people had almost lost their identity having been immersed in the pagan culture of Egypt and Moshe had to reintroduce them to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Creator would have to wean them away from paganism. It is so difficult for us to let go of the mind-sets that we have developed over many years. The first chapters of Vayikra are concerned with offerings, Korbanot, – קָרְבָּנוֹת a word that has been mistranslated and theologized. There are various terms used to describe the korban, – קָרְבָּןsuch as propitiation, expiation, atonement, forgiveness, all of which are theological interpretations. Korban has nothing to do with these definitions, rather it has to do with acknowledgement of our wrong-doing and taking the steps to heal our relationship with God, ourselves and our neighbors. Acknowledgement is the Key!
When many people read about these “sacrifices” of animals, they compare it with the pagan religions who need to appease their bloodthirsty gods in order avoid their wrath. Others need to feed their gods to keep them happy. The God of Israel needs neither to be fed nor appeased. There is a phrase in Vayikra 1:13 – “a burnt offering of… נִיחֹחַ רֵיחַ re’ach nicho’ach, a sweet savor or fragrant aroma”. The roots of these words are ‘ruach’ – רוח meaning spirit’ and ‘nachon’ – נכון meaning true, right or correct. This give us the understanding of acceptance by the Creator because we are willing to make things right.
The Creator wants us to approach Him willingly – “lirtzono” -לִרְצֹנוֹ and the greatest korban we can bring to the Creator is ourselves. The Hebrew word קָרְבָּן “korban” comes from the root “kerev” – קרב which means to draw near, to come close. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him rather than to be concerned with a multitude of rituals or hocus-pocus which we humans tend to prefer. We prefer feelings and magic rather than reason. The reality is that He is with us, no matter what. He is faithful to us, we are not. We fail Him but He has never failed us. The animal would be brought to the Cohen, the Priest by the person who would have to place their hands on the head of this innocent creature; this process is called “samach” from which we derive the word, smicha, to lay hands on someone to ordain them for ministry. It is not about transference or passing the buck, but about our acknowledgement that we have done wrong and recognition that it has to be made right.
What are these these five Korbanot and how do we apply them to our lives today?
The first is the עֹלָה ola where the entire animal is burnt; next the מִנְחָה mincha, the meal or dry offerings, was meant for the poor; the third is שְׁלָמִים shelamim – the peace or thanksgiving offering; the חַטָּאת chataat is the “sin offering” which “we have erred, we have missed the mark”, deviated from the staying on the right track and finally the אָשֵׁם asham, the “guilt offering”. All of these are done “unintentionally” whether we realize it or not. Usually God or another person will let us know about what we have done, and we then need to acknowledge and make it right.
These five different types of offerings were clearly understood by the people at that time because they had just left a system where they were deeply rooted in these ideas. The Creator would now sanitize them and slowly “refocus” their attention from the pagan ways to His ways. This would be a long process. Today we live in the 21st century and you would be surprised at how many of us still love the “hocus-pocus”, magic over reason although the Creator wants to free us.
The shelamim is similar to the gift of food or drink that we bring when we are invited to someone’s home. This gift is not a payment; it is a sharing or participating in the event. The animal is not payment for what we do wrong. There are always consequences for what we do but when we come and acknowledge our faults, confess (vidui) and then we try to make it right, this is true teshuva. Just saying we’re sorry is too easy; there has to be restitution. Vayikra 4:27 says that only the faults that are unintentional or involuntary are being accepted, “בִשְׁגָגָה bishgaga”. The only way for these to be accepted are to fully return to God, to do teshuva although the consequences remain.
I do not believe that rebuilding the Temple with its ritualistic animal offerings is what the Creator is calling us to do today. It is obvious to me that the people who want that, have never understood the principles that the Torah is teaching us. In the Prophet and the Writings, the people were told, that their sacrifices meant nothing to the Boreh Olam if their hearts were not in it. “18 For You will not delight in sacrifice, else would I give it; You will not have pleasure in burnt-offering.19 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:18-19
The Creator wants us to be responsible for our actions. Unlike theologians, the Boreh Olam speaks to us in simple terms that we can understand, so that there can be no excuse. I challenge you to allow the Creator to speak to you through His Word. There is nothing wrong in studying His Word but keep it simple. We don’t need the slaughtering of animals for the forgiveness of our sins. We don’t need to bribe Him, to pay Him or to appease our God as the pagan gods require.