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Vayikra


  • The Call

    by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

    It was never my ambition or aspiration to be a rabbi. I went to university to study economics. I then switched to philosophy. I also had a fascination with the great British courtroom lawyers, legendary figures like Marshall Hall, Rufus Isaacs and F. E. Smith. To be sure, relatively late, I had studied for the rabbinate, but that was to become literate in my own Jewish heritage, not to pursue a career.

    What changed me, professionally and existentially, was my second major yechidut – face-to-face conversation, – with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in January 1978. To my surprise, he vetoed all my career options: economist, lawyer, academic, even becoming a rabbi in the United States. My task, he said, was to train rabbis. There were too few people in Britain going into the rabbinate and it was my mission to change that.

    What is more, he said, I had to become a congregational rabbi, not as an end in itself but so that my students could come and see how I gave sermons (I can still hear in my mind’s ear how he said that word with a marked Russian accent: sirmons). He was also highly specific as to where I was to work: in Jews’ College (today, the London School of Jewish Studies), the oldest extant rabbinical seminary in the English-speaking world.

    So I did. I became a teacher at the College, and later its Principal. Eventually I became – again after consulting with the Rebbe – Chief Rabbi. For all this I have to thank not only the Rebbe, but also my wife Elaine. She did not sign up for this when we married. It was not even on our horizon. But without her constant support I could not have done any of it.

    I tell this story for a reason: to illustrate the difference between a gift and a vocation, between what we are good at and what we are called on to do. These are two very different things. I have known great judges who were also brilliant pianists. Wittgenstein trained as an aeronautical engineer but eventually dedicated his life to philosophy. Ronald Heifetz qualified as a doctor and a musician but instead became the founder of the School of Public Leadership at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. We can be good at many things, but what gives a life direction and meaning is a sense of mission, of something we are called on to do.

    That is the significance of the opening word of today’s parsha, that gives its name to the entire book: Vayikra, “He called.” Look carefully at the verse and you will see that its construction is odd. Literally translated it reads: “He called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying …” The first phrase seems to be redundant. If we are told that God spoke to Moses, why say in addition, “He called”?

    The answer is that God’s call to Moses was something prior to and different from what God went on to say. The latter were the details. The former was the summons, the mission – not unlike God’s first call to Moses at the burning bush where He invited him to undertake the task that would define his life: leading the people out of exile and slavery to freedom in the Promised Land.

    Why this second call? Probably because the book of Vayikra has, on the face of it, nothing to do with Moses. The original name given to it by the sages was Torat Cohanim, “the Law of the Priests”[1] – and Moses was not a priest. That role belonged to his brother Aaron. So it was as if God were saying to Moses: this too is part of your vocation. You are not a priest but you are the vehicle through which I reveal all My laws, including those of the priests.

    We tend to take the concept of a vocation – the word itself comes from the Latin for a “call” – for granted as if every culture has such an idea. However, it is not so. The great German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) pointed out that the idea of vocation, so central to the social ethic of Western culture, is essentially “a religious conception, that of a task set by God.”[2]

    It was born in the Hebrew Bible. Elsewhere there was little communication between the gods and human beings. The idea that God might invite human beings to become His partners and emissaries was revolutionary. Yet that is what Judaism is about.

    Jewish history began with God’s call to Abraham, to leave his land and family. God called to Moses and the prophets. There is a particularly vivid account in Isaiah’s mystical vision in which he saw God enthroned and surrounded by singing angels:

    Then I heard the Voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

    The most touching account is the story of the young Samuel, dedicated by his mother Hannah to serve God in the sanctuary at Shiloh where he acted as an assistant to Eli the priest. In bed at night he heard a voice calling his name. He assumed it was Eli. He ran to see what he wanted but Eli told him he had not called. This happened a second time and then a third, and by then Eli realised that it was God calling the child. He told Samuel that the next time the Voice called his name, he should reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ It did not occur to the child that it might be God summoning him to a mission, but it was. Thus began his career as a prophet, judge and anointer of Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David (1 Samuel 3).

    These were all prophetic calls, and prophecy ended during the Second Temple period. Nonetheless the idea of vocation remains for all those who believe in Divine providence. Each of us is different, therefore we each have unique talents and skills to bring to the world. The fact that I am here, in this place, at this time, with these abilities, is not accidental. There is a task to perform, and God is calling us to it.

    The man who did more than anyone to bring this idea back in recent times was Viktor Frankl, the psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz. There in the camp he dedicated himself to giving people the will to live. He did so by getting them to see that their lives were not finished, that they still had a task to perform, and that therefore they had a reason to survive until the war was over.

    Frankl insisted that the call came from outside the self. He used to say that the right question was not “What do I want from life?” but “What does life want from me?” He quotes the testimony of one of his students who earlier in life had been hospitalised because of mental illness. He wrote a letter to Frankl containing these words:

    But in the darkness, I had acquired a sense of my own unique mission in the world. I knew then, as I know now, that I must have been preserved for some reason, however small; it is something that only I can do, and it is vitally important that I do it… In the solitary darkness of the “pit” where men had abandoned me, He was there. When I did not know His name, He was there; God was there.[3]

    Reading Psalms in the prison to which the KGB had sent him, Natan Sharansky had a similar experience.[4]

    Frankl believed that “Every human person constitutes something unique; each situation in life occurs only once. The concrete task of any person is relative to this uniqueness and singularity.”[5] The essence of the task, he argued, is that it is self-transcending. It comes from outside the self and challenges us to live beyond mere self-interest. To discover such a task is to find that life – my life – has meaning and purpose.

    How do you discover your vocation? The late Michael Novak argued[6] that a calling has four characteristics. First, it is unique to you. Second, you have the talent for it. Third, it is something which, when you do it, gives you a sense of enjoyment and renewed energy. Fourth, do not expect it to reveal itself immediately. You may have to follow many paths that turn out to be false before you find the true one.

    Novak quotes Logan Pearsall Smith who said, “The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves.” All real achievement requires backbreaking preparation. The most common estimate is 10,000 hours of deep practice. Are you willing to pay this price? It is no accident that Vayikra begins with a call – because it is a book about sacrifices, and vocation involves sacrifice. We are willing to make sacrifices when we sense that a specific role or task is what we are called on to do.

    This is a life-changing idea. For each of us God has a task: work to perform, a kindness to show, a gift to give, love to share, loneliness to ease, pain to heal, or broken lives to help mend. Discerning that task, hearing God’s call, is what gives a life meaning and purpose. Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.

    Shabbat Shalom,
    Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

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  • IT’S ALL FOR YOU

    by gTorah.com

     In the aftermath of the Golden Calf, the Mishkan laws are delivered. Hashem calls to Moshe, before explaining the laws of the Avoda services:

    וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר – Hashem called on Moshe; and spoke to him from the Hall, to say… (1:1)

    וַיִּקְרָא is a deliberate expression, indicating consideration and care. וַיִּקְרָא has a small א – Rashi quotes a Midrash that takes this to mean that while writing the words, Moshe was drawing an analogy to the prophecy of Bilam, of whom it is said ויקר אלוקים אל בלעם – that Hashem chanced a communication with, unplanned. That is, that Moshe was saying that he too was not worthy of being deliberately called, and that his prophecy was also chanced upon him.

    There would seem to be a massive problem with this. One of the foundational tenets of Judaism is that Moshe Rabbeinu had perfect prophecy, which cannot be superseded, such that the Torah he delivered is unimpeachable. Surely, Moshe had to believe this too, with full confidence! How then, could he draw an analogy between himself and Bilam?

    R’ Shlomo Farhi explains that in fact, there is a large similarity. Bilam’s prophecy was incidental to the man, as Chazal state, that the nations were given a prophet to preempt the claim that if they had a prophet like Moshe, they might act differently. Bilam was a prophet for the people’s sake, not his own merits.

    In fact, Moshe is told something very similar. Rashi notes that his instructions were win them over in the wake of the recent tragedy. צא ואמור להם דברי כבושים. בשבילכם הוא מדבר עמי – I am a prophet because of you!

    The opportunities that the Jewish people keep getting are expressions of love from Hashem. Even the greatest of the prophets, and the holiest of instructions, come from that place. The entire book of Vayikra seems esoteric, but we just have to dig a little bit to find incredible riches expressing this central theme. He loves us, no matter what.

    LORD – I NEED A MIRACLE! – EFFORT AND THE ETERNAL FLAME
    In the set of laws pertaining to how sacrifices are conducted, is the set of laws about the Mizbeach – the altar:

    אֵשׁ תָּמִיד תּוּקַד עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא תִכְבֶּה – A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall not go out. (6:6)

    This is an instruction to the attendant Kohanim, that they need to constantly stoke and fuel the fire. The Mishna in Avos says that their job was made easier – עשרה ניסים נעשו בבית המקדש (…) ולא כבו הגשמים את עצי המערכה – Ten miracles occurred in the Temple, (… and) the rains did not extinguish the logs on the fire.

    Miracles are supernatural events – they are deviations from the usual expected order of events. That being said, miracles are always as simple and natural as possible – it would have been simpler for it not to rain there at all, as opposed to having rainfall on the fire but not extinguish it. Why is the miracle unnecessarily complicated?

    R’ Chaim Volozhin suggests a very powerful lesson. Our circumstances are fixed, our “rain” does not stop. All we can do is try our best; אֵשׁ תָּמִיד תּוּקַד עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ – the fire burnt continuously– even in the pouring rain, it would not go out.

    We can have all the excuses in the world to stop and falter from what is required of us as Jews. But we have a clear model in how to conduct ourselves in the attendant Kohanim, who would fuel the fire in the pouring rain. The Mishna clearly states that God took care of what was beyond their control. Perseverance and perspiration are what it takes. People pray for miracles, when they don’t see that they need to their part – their hishtadlus. This hishtadlus is the part we play in solving our problems, and the solution is ever in our hands. Miracles don’t materialise on their own.

    The fire on the Mizbeach was not activated by a miracle – it was only sustained miraculously. The fire wasn’t “magic”; it didn’t burn on it’s own. It required constant additional logs; with twenty-four hour work, over hundreds of years, it did not extinguish.

    Perhaps it is worth considering that the Kohen Gadol went into the Kodesh Kadashim one single time per year, on Yom Kippur. He performed the service, and said one prayer. The sole prayer ever said in the Kodesh Kadashim was that Hashem should not listen to travellers and tourists who didn’t want rain, and that it should rain as much as possible. Literal and figurative.

    Ask not for a lighter burden, but broader shoulders.

    FAITH WHEN IT’S TOUGH

    Sections of the laws of sacrifices detail how to dispose of what is not eaten or burnt as part of the Korban. It opens:

    צַו אֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר זֹאת תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה – Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. (6:2)

    It is curiously referred to as תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה – despite not being the burnt offe at all, which is discussed earlier in the Torah. It is the fats, leftovers and refuse! How is it תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה?

    The Midrash tells how the students of R’ Yosi bar Kisma asked him when Mashiach would come to which he cryptically responded “זֹאת תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה”.

    R’ Moshe Wolfson quotes the Satmar Rav in the name of his father, who explained. Disposal of the leftovers and undesirable parts at night seems mundane and inelegant; just something that has to be done. The Torah states that an attitude adjustment is called for – this work is not mundane at all, it’s תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה – and therefore entirely holy!

    By quoting this, R’ Yosi was telling his students that their question was fundamentally flawed. Their underlying assumption was that exile is a waste of time, but just has to be, like taking the trash out. His answer was that it is not a waste of time at all, it is a separate but equally important component in the bigger picture, just in a different form.

    The origins of formal prayer can be pegged to two sources. They either correlate to the Temple sacrifices that are lost to us; or they symbolise the three times the Patriarchs prayed. The Torah records how Avraham stood in prayer in the morning, which we call Shachris; Yitzchak stood in the afternoon, which we call Mincha; and Yakov in the evening, which we call Maariv.

    The Patriarchs were prototypes of the Jewish people, each generation refining and honing what was there, discarding undesirable traits; Yakov was the final version. It seems counter-intuitive that he is credited with Maariv, which is the least required of all the prayers. Shachris and Mincha have clearly defined Halachic requirements, and Maariv does not, to anywhere near the same degree. Arguably, it could even be said to be optional! So why is the least significant prayer attributed to our most significant ancestor?

    The Sfas Emes answers along a similar vein. Yakov embodies and encapsulates the Jew in exile. There is an imprint in our national identity left by our ancestors footsteps. Forcibly displaced from his home in Israel, to a degenerate foreign soil, yet a remarkable model of quality, integrity, dignity, and class. Perfect in every way, he set the bar as high as possible. Maariv, and Yakov, are the Jew persevering against all odds, when it may even be understandable for not pulling through. This is why he was the final prototype, and why Maariv is attributed to him.

    The slumps and downside of things have their key role too, and must be recognised as part of the greater web of events that lead us onward. The laws under discussion concern fats of the animal that are burned at night. Fat represent a lack of faith – it is stored energy, hedged against the possibility that the next meal may be hard to come by. Faith in the dark, in the hard times, is critical. This is what Yakov embodied, and that is what תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה is.

    It is pertinent to note that the Torah obliges us to burn the fat, this lack of faith, specifically at nighttime. להגיד בבוקר חסדיך, ואמונתך בלילות – at night, or when things seem unknown, cold, dark, when we feel most alone, that is precisely when we have to persevere most.

    WHY DO WE BRING KORBANOS?

    It’s a very basic question, and there are many approaches to take. The Ramban on Vayikra 1:9 discusses various approaches we will analyse, and is widely considered one of the fundamental parts of the Ramban’s commentary on the Chumash.

    The Ramban quotes the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim as the first approach. The Rambam writes there that the idea of Jews using animal sacrifice was necessary for the people as they needed a physical method of worship, having been a part of the pagan culture in Egypt and other such places. To battle and rectify the idol worship in the world, the Jews would do the same action for a sacred purpose.

    The Ramban disagrees strongly with this on many facets. If we base an entire method of service to Hashem on the actions of fools and sinners, why would Hashem gain anything from it at all? Vayikra 1:9 says that the korban creates אשה ריח ניחוח ליהוה – Hashem “enjoys” the fact that we bring korbanos. The implication of the Rambam is that the korbanos are more for man than Hashem, but if the korbanos were for man, why would Hashem enjoy it? We must find a suitable explanation for bringing korbanos that also explains why Hashem instructs it of us, rather than why why we ought to do it.

    The Ramban points out that if the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim is correct, that Jewish animal sacrifice only exists to battle idol worship, then we would not find instances of korbanos before an instance of idol worship. But this is not so – Adam was the first human – there were obviously no other people around to worship idols – yet he brought korbanos nonetheless, and so too with Noach; his family were the sole survivors of the Flood – so again, there could be no idol worshippers – and we find that nonetheless he did bring korbanos. How would the Rambam explain these instances where there was no idol worship to fight?

    He further asks why the solution to idol worship would be to do the same thing in a different way – this seems to lend credibility to the idolatry the korbanos are trying to fight, chas v’shalom. It would seem that it would be better to just eat animals and not have sacrifices at all if we were indeed trying to fight the credibility of idol worship, as eating them shows we don’t consider them to be worthy of special attention.

    R’ Yakov Minkus explains the solution to this issue. The Rambam in his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Me’ila 8:8) writes explicitly that the yesod – the distilled, fundamental, reason to bring korbanos is a חוק – there is no reason to do it other than the fact we were told to. The Moreh Nevuchim explains the inverse of this – once the mitzva exists, there is a spillover effect that we can relate to more, but the underlying reasoning remains a חוק. With this knowledge at hand, of course Noach could bring a korban, and the question about the non-existence of idol-worship falls away. Battling idol worship isn’t why there are korbanos as a starting point, rather, it helps explain it after the fact.

    With this knowledge of the Rambam’s true approach to korbanos, we can suggest an answer to the question of why the countering of idol worship would take a similar form, rather than denigrating it, by simply eating all animals regularly, without any sacrifices at all.

    Korbanos have their blood sprinkled on the Mizbeach, by a kohen, in the Beis Hamikdash. The Korban Pesach had none of these key functions, so why is it called a korban at all? R’ Moshe Shapiro explains that the key to understanding this issue is that idol worship is not nothing. Paganism and idol worship have a כח הטומאה – they usurp and corrupt spirituality. Eating an animal doesn’t battle the the negative of idol worship, it just nullifies it. The nullification does not require the Beis Hamikdash, or sprinkling of blood by the kohen. This is why the Pesach could be brought publicly in Egypt. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim was saying that all korbanos have this nullifying the negative aspect to which we can relate, but we now see this isn’t the full spectrum of his opinion.

    The Ramban then offers a second approach. There is an intrinsic good on man’s part in having korbanos. The idea of a korban is that a person should see the animal as being his substitute, and really, he ought to be sacrificed. The animal takes his place and atones for his sins, and this is the reason to have korbanos.

    There is a mighty flaw with this approach too however. Most korbanos are donated, rather than obligated of people, so the Ramban’s approach doesn’t explain the existence of donated korbanos at all.

    The Ramban offers a third solution, that is beyond the scope of this site to explain properly. The word קרבן, the root of which is the word קרב, means “closeness”. Offering a korban engenders closeness with Hashem. This is a difficult concept to explain, let alone understand, but to illustrate: we perform mitzvos to emulate Hashem’s ways, but we are not emulating Hashem by bringing korbanos – we are doing something else: we are interacting with Hashem. We are provoking a reaction in Hashem, as the pasuk says; “אשה ריח ניחוח ליהוה” – on which Rashi remarks “נחת רוח לפני, שאמרתי ונעשה רצוני”. This is difficult to illustrate, but there is a difference between doing Hashem’s will, and making it. When we bring a korban, we bring more of Hashem’s will into the world. One could suggest there is an element of creation here.

    The Ramban brings a proof from Isaiah 60:7 that says: יַעֲלוּ עַל רָצוֹן מִזְבְּחִי וּבֵית תִּפְאַרְתִּי אֲפָאֵר – the Mizbeach is the expression of Hashem’s will.

    So in bringing a korban, a person intentions are going to correlate to how they have extended G-d’s will in the world. This is why there is a concept of pigul, (a lengthy concept regarding what happens in the event that all the actions of a korban were carried out correctly, but someone in the porcess was thinking about something mundane, like the weather. Around 40 pages of Meseches Zevachim are devoted to this) – because the physical animal isn’t what matters – there is a transfer of spirituality here, from potential/theoretical to physical in this world. It’s a very big deal. The improper thoughts mean one can’t interact with what he’s trying to, and the korban has served it’s purpose, as the whole idea is not the physical at all.

    So in answer to why we bring korbanos: there is the simple Moreh Nevuchim approach that we are counteracting paganism, the Ramban’s simple approach that we can atone our sins, and the Ramban’s esoteric Kabbalistic approach. We can suggest though, that perhaps the חוק aspect that the Rambam referred to was this third approach, and perhaps all the opinions harmonise together. Admittedly, this doesn’t answer why we bring korbanos, but it does explain what the function of the korban is. 

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  • Parshat Vayikra Highlights

    by Rabbi Avi Matmon

    MAIN THEME:

    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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