Google Groups no longer supports new Usenet posts or subscriptions. Historical content remains viewable.

INTPARSHA61 -23: Parashat Vayikra

Skip to first unread message

Yeshivat Har Etzion's Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mar 28, 2001, 5:20:05 AM3/28/01
X-ListMember: []



In memory of 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass z"l hy"d,
shot two days ago in Chevron, as well as the victims
of this morning's terrorist attack.
We pray for a refua shelema for Yitzchak Pass,
Daniella Fein, and the many others wounded in the recent


The Secrets of the Sacrifices
by Rav Zvi Shimon

In our age of satellite and computer technology, many
find it difficult to relate to the idea of sacrifices. Since
the destruction of the temple we no longer worship God through
the offering of sacrifices but rather through prayer. While
the words of the prayers reveal their meaning and content, the
ideas behind the different sacrifices remain concealed.
Parashat Vayikra lists the different types of sacrifices and
the manner in which they are offered, but never reveals the
meaning behind them. It describes man's desire to offer a
sacrifice: "When any of you presents an offering of cattle to
the Lord" (Leviticus 1:2). The offering of sacrifices is
presented as a given. The Torah assumes that the reader is
familiar with the motivations for offering sacrifices. Since
the Torah only delineates the laws of each type of sacrifice
we must ask, why are there different types of sacrifices and
what ideas do they express?

Parashat Vayikra begins with a verse describing God's
speaking to Moses: "The Lord called to Moses and spoke..."
(1:1). The next appearance of such a verse is in chapter 4:
"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying..." (4:1). It can be deduced
from this that chapters one through three were said together
but chapter four was spoken by God separately. The first three
chapters deal with the burnt offering, meal offering and peace
offering respectively. Chapters four and five deal with the
different sin offerings and guilt offerings. What
distinguishes between these two groups? Why were they said
separately? The major distinction between these two groups are
the circumstances surrounding the offering of the sacrifice.
In the first group (the burnt offering, meal offering and
peace offering), the sacrifice is brought voluntarily: "When
any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord"
(Leviticus 1:2). Man initiates the bringing of an offering. By
contrast, the sin and guilt offerings of chapters four and
five are not voluntary but rather obligatory. They must be
brought under certain circumstances that are delineated by the
Torah. The Torah first describes the voluntary sacrifices in
one communication from God and only afterwards treats the
obligatory ones in a separate communication.

As stated, there are three types of sacrifices which may
be brought voluntarily, the burnt offering, meal offering and
peace offering. The Torah lists several possibilities for each
type of sacrifice. For example, a burnt offering may either
come from cattle, sheep, or birds.

The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Loeb ben Yechiel Michael, Eastern
Europe, 1809-1879) points to the difference in the wording
used by the Torah in the introduction of a new category, and
the wording used in delineating the sub-divisions of each
category. A new subject or category is introduced with the
word 'Ki' - (WHEN). The sub-divisions of the general category
or law will always be introduced with the word 'Im' - (IF).
(Examples are numerous, see Exodus chapters 21,22 and
Leviticus 2:4-7). Using this linguistic rule, we can identify
the subject heading of our chapter and its sub-divisions. The
word "when" appears in verse two and introduces the
sacrifices: "WHEN any of you presents an offering of cattle to
the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from
the flock". Verse 3 then presents the first sub-division of
the category introduced by verse 2: "IF his offering is a
burnt offering...". The remainder of the first chapter
describes the different types of burnt offerings: "IF his
offering for a burnt offering is from the flock..."(1:10) and
"IF his offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of
birds..."(1:14). The word "if" in these verses designates the
sub-categories of the burnt offering.

If the burnt offering is a sub-category of verse 2 what
is its counterpart? What is the alternative to the burnt
offering in verse 3. Rabbi Hoffman (Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman,
Germany, 1843-1921), using the linguistic principal formulated
by the Malbim, concludes that the peace offering of chapter 3,
"And IF his offering be a sacrifice of peace offering".(3:1),
is the counterpart of the burnt offering. The word if which
introduces the peace offering in chapter 3 parallels the if
which introduces the burnt offering, "IF his offering is a
burnt offering..."(1:3). To summarize, verse 2 introduces the
category of voluntary sacrifices which divide into two sub-
categories, the burnt offering of chapter 1 and the peace
offering of chapter 3.

What requires elaboration, according to this
interpretation, is the function of chapter 2. If chapters 1
and 3 are actually connected, why does chapter two, which
deals with the meal offering, appear between them? Rabbi
Hoffman answers that the meal offering is connected to the
burnt offering and the Torah brings it in chapter two as an
appendage to the burnt offering. The meal offering is not one
of the sub-divisions of the category introduced in verse two.
However it appears where it does because of the connection
between it and the burnt offering. The nature of this
connection will be explained later. First we must understand
the meaning and relationship between the burnt and peace
offerings. What makes them the two prototypes of the voluntary

As stated earlier, the meaning of the sacrifices is not
revealed by the Torah. The offerer, in the times of the
Temple, knew the meaning behind the sacrifices. We, however,
can only deduce from the laws of the different sacrifices,
what each of them expressed. By comparing the laws of the
burnt and peace offerings we will attempt to discover what
they represent. As you read the two following texts note the
differences between the laws of the burnt and peace offerings.

"The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent
of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, and
say to them:

When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the
Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from
the flock.

If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he
shall make his offering a male without blemish. He shall
bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, for
acceptance in his behalf before the Lord. He shall lay
his hand upon the head of the burnt offering, that it may
be acceptable in his behalf, in expiation for him. The
bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron's
sons, the priests, shall offer the blood, dashing the
blood against all sides of the altar which is at the
entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The burnt offering
shall be flayed and cut up into sections. The sons of
Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and lay out
wood upon the fire; and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall
lay out the sections, with the head and the suet, on the
wood that is on the fire upon the altar. Its entrails
and legs shall be washed with water, and the priest shall
turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt
offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the
Lord." (Leviticus 1:1-9)

"If his offering is a peace offering -

If he offers of the herd, whether a male or a female, he
shall bring before the Lord one without blemish. He
shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering and
slaughter it at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and
Aaron's sons, the priests, shall dash the blood against
all sides of the altar. He shall then present from the
peace offering, as an offering by fire to the Lord, the
fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is
about the entrails; the two kidneys and the fat that is
on them, that is at the loins; and the protuberance on
the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys.
Aaron's sons shall turn these into smoke on the altar,
with the burnt offering which is upon the wood that is on
the fire, as an offering by fire, of pleasing odor to the

The following are some of the major differences between the
burnt and peace offerings:

1. The burnt offering is brought only from male animals while
the peace offering may be either male or female.

2. The burnt offering atones while the peace offering does

3. In a burnt offering the whole animal is burned on the
altar. In a peace offering only the fat of the entrails, the
kidneys and their fat, and the protuberance on the liver are
offered. The breast of the animal and its right thigh are
given to the 'kohanim' (7:31,32), and the remaining flesh of
the animal is eaten by the offerer of the sacrifice (7:15).

4. The peace offering is considered a 'Lechem Isheh,' a food
offering ("The priest shall turn these into smoke on the altar
as food..." 3:11) while the burnt offering is not.

I) The Burnt Offering

In attempting to reveal the meaning of the different
sacrifices, the first insight available to us is the name of
the sacrifice. "Burnt offering" is the English translation for
the Hebrew word olah. The English translation of the word olah
is more of an interpretation than a translation. It does not
relate to the original Hebrew meaning of the word, olah, but
rather offers an English name based on the laws of the
sacrifice, namely, its being completely burned on the altar.
The commentators offer several explanations for the name olah.
One possibility is that it stems from the word 'avela,' a
wrongdoing. The burnt offering atones for wrongdoing
perpetrated by the offerer. The Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham ben
Ezra, Spain, 1092-1167) offers a conceptually similar
explanation but based on a different etymology:

"That which is offered to atone for [sinful thoughts] which
ARISE in the mind of the offerer is called an olah - a burnt
offering." (Ibn Ezra 1:4)

The Ibn Ezra's interpretation is based on one of the
explanations offered by our sages for the atonement
accomplished by the burnt offering (see Vayikra Rabba 7:3,
compare Rashi 1:4). In contrast to the sin offering which is
offered for sinful deeds, the burnt offering atones for sinful
thoughts. According to this explanation, sin does not only
pertain to the realm of action but also to the realm of
thought. A "misthought," like a misdeed, requires atonement.
The Ibn Ezra suggests that the name olah stems from the root
'Alah' - to rise (as in the word 'Aliya'). It relates to the
sinful thoughts "arising" in the mind of the offerer.

However, the Ibn Ezra, himself, apparently found this
explanation to be unsatisfactory, since he later offers a
different explanation of the word olah. It indeed stems from
the Hebrew root which means to rise. However it doesn't relate
to that for which the burnt offering atones, namely sinful
thoughts, but rather describes the process by which the
sacrifice is offered. As stated, the olah is the only
sacrifice which is completely burned on the altar. Neither the
'kohanim' nor the offerer receive any part of it. As such it
is called an olah, literally, a sacrifice which rises.

II)The Peace Offering

The Hebrew name for this sacrifice is 'zevach SHELAMIM.'
The commentators offer different explanations of the etymology
of this name. According to the Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir,
France, 1080-1160) the source of the name is the word 'Le-
shalem,' to pay. The shelamim is brought in fulfillment of
vows, and as such is a 'tashlumin,' a payment of a debt. Some
modern scholars suggest, in a similar vein, that the shelamim
is an offering of thanks, a "repayment" for the good bestowed
upon the offerer by God. However this interpretation is
difficult since there are numerous examples of this offering
being brought in times of affliction, as a request for
salvation (see Judges 20:26; 21:4;...). The Ibn Ezra (see
short commentary to Exodus 29:28) raises a different
possibility. He suggests that the name shelamim stems from the
word 'shalem' - perfect, complete. Thus, the name of the
sacrifice describes the spiritual state of the offerer. In
contrast to the sin offering which is brought due to a
misdeed, the shelamim is brought by a perfect soul unperturbed
by sin. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, France, 1040-1105)
,citing our sages, offers a third interpretation:

" shelamim - They are so called because they bring peace
into the world. Another explanation is: they are called
shelamim because through them there is peace (harmony and
lack of envy) to the altar, to the priests and to the
owners (since all these receive a portion)"(3:1).

We stated that the peace offering has the unique quality
of being divided between the altar - God, the kohen and the
offerer of the sacrifice. This sharing represents harmony and
peace between the parties involved. This interpretation is the
source for the translation of shelamim as peace offering. This
translation is a fine example of a translation which by
necessity must be an interpretation.

In summary, the commentators offer three possible
etymologies of the word shelamim, either from the verb 'le-
shalem' - to pay, or from the word 'shalem' - complete, or
from the word 'shalom' - peace.

While we might now be able to understand the meaning of
the names of the sacrifices, we are yet to grasp their inner
significance. How are they the two prototypes of the voluntary
sacrifices? What does the offerer of these sacrifices wish to

The major difference between the olah and the shelamim is
the fact that the olah is offered totally to God while the
shelamim is shared by all the parties involved. This
difference is the key to understanding the significance of
these sacrifices. The olah stresses the gap between God and
man. The olah is burned on the altar and RISES to the heavens.
Man has no part in it; he can not partake of it. It belongs to
the divine. We noted that one of the differences between the
sacrifices is that the olah atones for man's imperfections.
Man's faults and shortcomings distance him from the almighty.
He senses his many faults and weaknesses and realizes his
minuteness when standing before God. He approaches God in
total submission, with a sense of awe and fear. The olah
represents the worship of God 'Be-Yir'a' - with awe and fear.

The shelamim, by contrast, represent closeness between
man and God. It is a banquet, a shared meal in which God, the
kohen and the offerer of the sacrifice each partake of part of
the animal. Man, the finite, sits with the infinite and eats,
as it were, at the same table. The Torah gives expression to
this aspect of the sacrifice by calling it a 'Lechem Isheh,' a
food offering (see 3:11). The shelamim can be viewed as the
food of God since man also partakes of it in a special feast.
Man can achieve this sense of closeness with God only when he
is in an elevated spiritual state. When man is 'shalem' -
complete and perfect, he is worthy of sitting at God's table.
Moreover, it is through man's cleaving to God that he achieves
this state of perfection. The shelamim represents the worship
of God 'Be-Ahava' - with love.

Verse two, ("When any of you presents an offering of
cattle to the Lord") introduces the emotions in man's worship
of God. God with awe and fear as well as with yearning and
love. The Torah informs us that one who desires to bring a
sacrifice has two basic possibilities available, a sacrifice
expressing fear and submission or a sacrifice expressing love
and attachment.

We can now return to the obvious question arising from
this analysis. What is the explanation for the placement of
the meal offering in chapter two. If chapters one and three
are connected and represent the two types of emotion in the
worship of God, why does the meal offering of chapter two,
appear between them?

The Malbim (beginning of chapter two) points out that
chapter two begins with the word 'Ki' - (when), signaling the
beginning of a new topic:

"And when an individual presents a meal offering to God..."

The difference between the 'mincha' - the meal offering
and the olah and shelamim is clear. The mincha is not an
animal sacrifice but rather brought from flour. However the
Malbim also points out that the chapter begins with the letter
'vav' - "And". As evidenced by the word Ki - (when), the meal
offering is a new topic, and yet the letter 'vav' - (And),
establishes a connection between the meal offering and the
burnt offering of chapter one. This connection is not unique
to our parasha. There are several instances in the Bible where
the burnt and meal offerings appear connected (see Leviticus
9:17; 23:37; Joshua 22:23; Judges 13:23). How are these
sacrifices related? The olah expresses God's ownership of our
lives and man's complete submission to His will. The whole
animal, symbolizing the totality of life, is offered onto the
altar. The mincha, similarly expresses God's ownership of all
man's material belongings. The flour, the major component of
the mincha, is the basic food ingredient on which man
subsists. It symbolizes the material world. By offering a
mincha man gives expression to his awareness that the wealth
which he has acquired is given to him by God. Therefore,
although the mincha is not an animal sacrifice, the Torah
mentions it in connection with the olah due to the
similarities in the ideas which they express.

The first three chapters of Leviticus deal with the
voluntary sacrifices, the olah, mincha and zevach shelamim.
The following chapters deal with obligatory sacrifices, the
sin and guilt offerings. The precedence of the voluntary
sacrifices, according to our sages, shows that they are more
desirable than the obligatory sacrifices. What about the order
within the voluntary sacrifices themselves? Why does the olah
precede the shelamim?

The Torah first describes the olah to teach us that the
fear and awe of God are primary in man's relationship with
God. An appreciation of the greatness and omnipotence of God
is the first step in knowing God. One who loves God without
fearing Him becomes attached to God without a proper regard
for his greatness. One of the differences between the olah and
the shelamim is that the olah may be brought only from male
animals while the shelamim may be either male or female. This
difference perhaps testifies to the primacy of the olah
offering. From a financial perspective the male is viewed as
more valuable (see Leviticus chapter 27). The requirement of a
male animal in the olah indicates its importance and supremacy
over other sacrifices. We must obviously, both fear and love
God. However, the fear and awe of God generated by the olah
are the foundation for the love of God expressed by the


For direct questions or comments to Zvi Shimon, please send
email to .

Last year's shiurim in Parashat HaShavua
are now posted on our website!
send e-mail to
with the following message:
send e-mail to
with the following message:
unsubscribe YHE-INTPARSHA
For direct questions or comments regarding this shiur,
please write to

Yeshivat Har Etzion's Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
is on the web at
Shiurim may be dedicated to various occasions -
yahrzeits, semachot, birthdays, etc. Please e-mail for an application.
Internet & e-mail list hosting for the VBM provided courtesy of:
The Yerushalayim Network (
a Centennial Project of the Orthodox Union (
For a full VBM curriculum, write to with
the following message: Get YHE-About courses


Copyright (c) 1999 Yeshivat Har Etzion
All Rights Reserved

0 new messages