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Parshat Vayikra Highlights

by Rabbi Avi Matmon


The parsha primarily deals with the services and the responsibilities of the Kohanim. It focuses on many of the korbanot-sacrifices brought in the Tabernacle

First Portion: * The theme of the book of Vayikra is sacrifices. At the end of the book of Shemot, we finished the construction of the mishkan; we went through a detailed and extensive description of the measurement of the structure of the Temple; clothes in which which the Kohen performed his duties; what materials and textures were used, and what objects should be constructed and formulated. Here, in this book, we are taking the next step of the different types of offerings and their rituals.

* Korbanot - sacrifices - comes from the root karov - near. The whole idea of korbanot is to get close to G-d. Today, since there is no Temple and no sacrifices, we substitute the sacrifices with prayer which we do in Synagogue, which is a substitute for the Temple. The optimal way, though, to get close to G-d, is through the ritual of sacrifices. It had an enormous influence on man much more than its substitute - prayer - which we do today. The two steps of the act, the korbanot that one brings is s'micha - the laying of the hand upon the animal, and vidui - confession of sins.

* The three animals permissible for offering are:
1. The Ox - hints at Abraham's, our forefather's merit, for he ran to fetch oxen in order to serve his guests well (3 angels).

2. The Lamb - is reminiscent of Yitzchak in whose stead a ram was sacrificed.

3. The Goat - symbolizes the third of our forefathers, Yaacov, who was instructed by his mother, Rivka, "take two kid goats and bring them to you father". G-d said they too will be a part of enhancing spirituality among your descendants. Through kid goats, their sin shall be purged.

* The Parsha details the laws of five categories of korbanot:
The first sacrifice mentioned is the olah or burnt offering. If a person feels inclined (volunteer) to offer a korban, he may bring an ox, a lamb, a goat, a turtle, dove, or a pigeon depending on his financial capabilities. If he is in dire financial difficulties, he could bring flour. The olah sacrifice atones for transgressions neglecting to perform positive commandment as well as some negative. However, it is by and large, a volunteer sacrifice; it's a gift from the donor (man) where he seeks to achieve a higher degree of attachment to his Maker. Therefore, it is burnt entirely because G-d deems it special to an extent where he's not willing to share it with the Kohen.

Second Portion: * Two kinds of birds are eligible to serve as sacrifices: mature turtledoves and young doves. G-d declares grown turtledoves fit for sacrifices since when the female's mate dies, she remains loyal to it and never associates with another bird. This is a symbol of the Jews who stand firm in their commitment to G-d and their refusal to exchange Him for any other power.

* The second sacrifice offering mentioned is the Mincha. G-d said, whoever is unable to donate an animal or a bird because his means are limited, is granted the opportunity to bring a flour offering instead termed mincha. Every volunteer mincha offering (and there are five) consists of the same basic ingredients, flour and oil, to which some incense are added.

Third Portion: * The Torah prohibits mixing the dough of the mincha offering brought by individuals with sweeteners such as honey and fruit juices. It is also forbidden to let the dough rise; the dough must be baked and unleavened. Leaven represents the evil inclination (major concept in which we derive for Pesach). Honey symbolizes the desire and lust in the world. Both are banned from the altar, to teach a person that in order to serve G-d wholeheartedly, he must learn to control both these inclinations.

Fourth Portion: * The third sacrifice is the shelamim - peace offering. This is the free will offering of an individual who is in an elevated state of mind and is wishing to express his happiness. The name "shelamim" signifies two things: 1) When we offer it, G-d blesses the world with peace. 2) It brings peace and harmony to all those who participate in offering it up the mizbeach, the kohanim, and the owner. Its blood and inner organs are consumed on the altar; the breast and thighs are given to the kohanim; and the skin and meat are apportioned to the donor. This promotes peace by causing all the above parties to unite as friends who consume the meal together (in contrast, the olah is totally burned and the mincha, although partially consumed by the kohanim, may not be eaten by the owner.)

Fifth Portion: * The fourth type of sacrifice is the chatat. If a Jewish man or woman had inadvertently transgressed a negative Torah commandment, he was obligated to offer a chatat. This sin offering will atone for his mistake. The chatat was brought only for the commission of sins which, if deliberately transgressed, made the sinner liable for karet (excision) punishment (there are 49 such sins most of them arayot - forbidden marital relations). As we just stated, the chatat was offered only for a sin committed unknowingly.

Sixth Portion: * We realize the magnitude of a false oath where it is significant enough that he has to bring a korban.

Seventh Portion: * The last of the sacrifice offering, the asham or the guilt offering, consists of a ram. It is offered for the commission of five specific sins. Only two of them are mentioned in this Parsha; the guilt offering for theft and the guilt offering for having benefited by a hollow object (food or property) belonging to the Temple.

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