Posted on March 23, 2011
by Bekah Hakimian
March 28, 2009/3 Nisan 5769
This week’s parsha, Vaykira, is the first reading in the book of Leviticus. Vayikra means “and he called,” and this refers to God’s call to Moshe. This is the most appropriate name, for in this book are laws, precepts, values, and consequences communicated through Moshe to all the Israelites. These initiate the chain of Jewish tradition- passing the law from one generation to the next.
Vayikra begins with God instructing Moshe to describe the various sacrifices are: a burnt offering (olah); the meal offering (minchah); the sacrifice of well-being (zevach shelamim); the sin offering (chatat): and the guilt offering (asham). Olah, literally meaning “that which goes up,” is characterized by burning the entire animal upon the altar except for the hide. The minchah offering consists of unleavened choice of flour. A portion of it was to be burned on the altar and the remainder given to Aaron and his sons. All minchah offerings must contain salt. An unblemished cow, sheep, or goat could serve as the offering for the sacrifice of zevach shelamim. An ordinance states that all the fat on the sacrificial animal belonged to God. Additionally, a prohibition against eating any fat or blood is included in here. These three types of sacrifices are voluntary and not brought for atonement. The chatat and the asham are both obligatory upon guilty individuals.
The chatat is to be brought by an individual or community which, through error, commits a sin regarding any of the commandments. The specific offering to be brought was determined by economic condition. An anointed priest and the community are both directed to sacrifice unblemished bulls for the chatat. Four additional transgressions are described as requiring a chatat offering:
- failure to come forward to testify;
- touching an unclean animal or carcass;
- coming in contact with human uncleanness; and
- failure to fulfill an oath. For these transgressions can be a female sheep, a goat, two birds or choice flour
The asham offering is to be brought by an individual who has sinned by committing robbery or fraud. The penalty for such a crime is to restore to the owner the item stolen, plus an additional one-fifth of its value and then to bring a ram or its equivalent in money as a sacrifice. This offering also applies to the individual who has unwittingly sinned regarding God’s sacred things.
As mentioned before, Vayikra means “And He called.” God called Moshe about the offerings and sacrifices. Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez points out the unusual wording in the text: “The Lord called to Moshe …” (Rather than spoke to Moshe). From this, the commentator derives a lesson. If you wish to speak to a friend who is busy, you should first call hi/her name. It is not enough for a person to be a scholar, one must also have good manners. If a scholar does not have good manners, people may come to hate him. The scholar represents Torah and, therefore, may cause people to hate Torah.
The Hebrew term for good manners is derech eretz – literally “the way of the world.” What are some examples of good manners which you use daily? What would the world be like if no one has “derech eretz”? In what way might good manners be necessary in school? USY? Work? Driving? Are these behaviors which could be called good Jewish manners?
How should we understand the sacrifices? From a casual reading of this portion, you might think that the sacrifices were a form of bribery – a way to influence God. But a belief basic to Judaism is that God is not a physical being who needs food. So what benefit could God derive from a sacrifice? The lesson is that God does not need a sacrifice, the people do. So USY, think about the sacrifices that we make everyday. We don’t literally have to go out, find a perfect, unblemished cow to sacrifice to God to show our devotion and love. By respecting our parents, engaging in Tikun Olam and other mitzvot we are expressing our gratitude to God and that is all that matters. Another great way is it pledge to observe Shabbat and conserve energy for Shabbat Unplugged, Friday April 3 to Saturday April 4. Shabbat Shalom!