The Hebrew Scriptures are not readily or easily understood by native English speakers, we post a weekly addition to regular Torah commentary. "Cutting to the Root" is intended to promote an understanding of the complexity of the Hebrew language and thereby gain a richer and deeper understanding of the Scriptures. It is our goal that these notes will teach tolerance and understanding.Please visit our web site at

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Parashat Vayikra

Parasha: Vayikra – Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

Haftara: Isaiah 43:21-44:23

Reading date: 15th March 2008 – 8th Adar Bet 5768

The book of Leviticus is known as the ‘Torah of the Cohenim’ because most of the book deals with the Laws of the Tabernacle and laws relating to the Levites.

The opening chapters deal almost exclusively with ‘korbanot’ a word that is often translated either as sacrifice or offering but the truth is that the English language does not have a word that accurately describes the concept of a ‘korban’.

The word ‘sacrifice’ implies that the person brining it is expected to deprive himself of something valuable – but YHVH finds no joy in the anguish or deprivation of His people. ‘Offering’ is closer but still falls short of the Hebrew ‘korban’. Does YHVH require ou r gifts to appease Him or assuage His anger? And if He did, what significance is a bull or a lamb to Him?

“If you have acted righteously, what have you given Him?” (Job 35:7)

The root of the word ‘korban’ means to come near. The person bringing the offering comes closer to YHVH; he elevates his spirituality. That is the true meaning of the word and the act. For modern man – who has been weaned on the disillusion that anything not measurable or replicable is unworthy of serious consideration. The notion of animal offerings seems bizarre, even primitive. However let us imagine ourselves amongst our ancestors when the first Cohenim brought their first offerings in their newly built Tabernacle. There was a palpable recognition of YHVH’s glory resting upon their handiwork, and a miraculous Heavenly fire descending to consume the offerings. Could they have doubted? Would we have felt different if we had been there?

Wherever the Torah speaks of offerings, it uses the name of YHVH that signifies His mercy. The offerings are the means that He gives us to rejuvenate ourselves, to provide us a means to bring elevation and purity into our lives. It is when man serves YHVH in this way that He finds the offering to be a ‘pleasant aroma’ as if YHVH says – “I have commanded and My will has been done.”

1:2 Bring an offering – The Hebrew words for the two types of animal used for the offering are ‘habehama’ which are bulls, oxen, heifers and calves – other bovines are excluded and ‘tzon’ which are sheep and or goat. The animals mentioned in this chapter are the same which YHVH commanded Abraham to offer (Gen.15:9).

1:3 A burnt-offering may be brought by one who has intentionally committed a sin for which Torah does not prescribe a punishment, one who failed to perform a positive commandment, one who had sinful thoughts, and by everyone who comes to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals. A burnt-offering may also be brought by anyone who wishes to raise his spiritual level.

1:4 By the person placing his hand on the head of the ‘olah’ (note the difference between the olah and the ‘korban’) he acknowledges the following,

1. The sacrifice is his.

2. That he offers it as a atonement for his sins.

3. That he was worthy of death, having sinned and forfeited his life.

4. That he petitions YHVH to accept the life of the offering in his stead.

5. That the blood of the sacrifice would be sprinkled upon the altar as life redeems life and the life is in the blood.

6. That he feels the life leaving the sacrifice, the life offered that he may through repentance and sacrifice continue to live.

1:6 The offerings were skinned and cut up before being offered. Only the red heifer was offered whole, including the skin.

1:14 As long as one serves YHVH according to his ability, his offering – even a simple bird – is accepted and rewarded.

1:15 The birds were killed by an action used by the priests. He used his nail instead of a knife. This method was acceptable for sacrifice but is not accepted as a method of slaughter for the preparation of food.

2:1 Many English commentators translate the Hebrew word ‘mincha’ incorrectly as meat. This was in fact the most meager of the offerings consisting of no more than ‘solet’ the cheapest of flour and oil. The sages tell us that sometimes water was added if the oil was not sufficient. These are the two most basic of essential foods. It still forms the staple of many of the poorer people in the Middle East.

2:10 It is very interesting the priest’s portion of the ‘mincha’ offering is called the most holy from the fire offerings and not the meat of the animals that would have cost much more. It is the sincerity of the poor mans offering that is not only pleasing to YHVH but also the most holy.

2:14-16 This passage refers to the ‘Omer’, which was brought from the new barley crop and burned on the altar on the second day of ‘Pesach’. Before this offering, no grain of the new crops could be eaten.

3:1-17 Peace offerings are brought voluntarily by a person or a group who are moved to express their love of YHVH and their gratitude for His goodness, and to enhance their closeness to Him. The name is derived from ‘shalom’ because this offering has the capacity to increase peace in the world. Alternatively, since the peace offering has portions for the Altar, the Cohenim and the owners, its name symbolizes the peace that results when the legitimate needs of all groups are satisfied.

3:17 “An eternal decree for your generations in all your dwelling places; you may not consume any fat or any blood”. The blood was the life of the animal being offered and was used to make atonement for the people. Consequently this is never eaten in any generation. In most cases it is impossible to separate the fat from the flesh but the blood carried in veins and arteries can be separated. Fat around the omentum, the mesentery and the kidneys is easily isolated. As the burning fat was what produced the aroma (it is also known not be at all healthy to eat the fat!) it was forbidden to deprive YHVH of His portion by eating it.

4:1-5:26 Until this point the Torah has listed voluntary offerings that elevate ourselves spiritually but now are listed that offerings that are required for the atonement of sins. Sin offerings atone for deeds that were committed inadvertently, as a result of carelessness; intentional sins require sincere repentance and accidental sins do not require an offering. Ramban (v.2) points out, even though they were unintentional, such deeds blemish the soul; for if the sinner had regarded them with the proper gravity, the violations would never have occurred.

4:13 The ‘Sifra’ implies that ‘kol edat israel’ is the Sanhedrin. I rather believe it to be national sin as the translation should be ‘the witness of the nation of Israel’. Therefore, Israel as a nation today is guilty of sin for her noncompliance to the Word of YHVH. There is always a remnant that is obedient but the rule is that sometimes the whole has to suffer the transgressions of the corporate.

4:22-26 This sin offering applies only to kings and rulers. They must be as subservient as anyone else the Torah. Remember that a king had to write out the Torah before he could reign.

5:1-13 This passage introduces an offering which varies with the resources of the sinner. No one is excluded from having to atone for sin, regardless of their personal situation.

5:15 This verse in Scripture hides one of the biggest clues to redemption and restoration but is unseen because of ignorant translation or a desire for the full truth to remain hidden. A misunderstanding of this verse can keep us harboring guilt, hindering the restoration of self and remaining reliant on others rather than the Father. All the translations that examined translate ‘and he shall bring his guilt offering to YHVH’ but when we read it in Hebrew we see that we should bring our ‘guilt’ and not an offering to YHVH. For this reason we need to understand that the offering is a mere symbol of the act of taking our guilt to the Father. We cannot be freed of guilt by bringing an offering but only by taking the actual guilt to Him.

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