Following are some of the ideas, insights and interpretations that emerge from our weekly Chumash learning group at the Young Israel of Oceanside, Long Island. We cite sources when possible. Some of our interpretations derive from ideas we may have seen elsewhere, possibly without attribution. Or we may simply have forgotten the source. For this we apologize. We invite your comments, observations and participation.
Nine positive mitzvahs and nine prohibitions
Burnt Offering brought every morning and evening in the name of the community
Removal of the ashes of the Burnt Offering
Continuous fire on the Altar
Laws of Meal Offering
“Contagion of holiness”: Non-holy food coming into contact with holy food becomes holy
High Priest’s daily Meal Offering brought at his own expense
Laws of Sin Offerings
Laws of Guilt Offerings
Hides of guilt and Sin Offerings belong to priests
Laws of Peace /Thanksgiving Offerings
Prohibition of eating hard fat (chaylev) of an offering
Prohibition of consuming the blood of any animal and bird
Priests’ portion of Peace offerings: breast and right hind leg
Installation of Aharon and his sons:
• Immersion in water
• Oil sprinkled on the vessels and poured on Aharon’s head
• Priests clothed in their priestly garments
• Blood of slaughtered sin-offering bull smeared on the horns of the Altar and remainder poured out at the base of the altar
• First burnt offering ram is slaughtered and its blood sprinkled on the altar
• Second ram is slaughtered and its blood placed on the cartilage of priests’ right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet. This symbolically demonstrates the commitment to always…
Listen to God’s commands
Do His will
Walk in His ways
The remaining blood is sprinkled on the altar, all around.
• Moshe sprinkles some of the blood on the altar together with anointing oil on Aharon and his sons and on their garments symbolically defining their duties to spread the light of Godliness and to affirm the availability of Divine forgiveness for the sinner
• Priests instructed to remain at the Ohel Moed for seven days
A Parsha Outline
Rabbi Menachem Leibtag explains that because the Torah is providing the priests with information about the procedures for each offering, and their differing levels of sanctity, the korbanot are discussed by degree of their holiness. First come the holiest (kodesh kodashim—the burnt, meal and sin offerings) followed by those of lesser or lighter holiness (shlamim peace offerings). The recurring phrase “zos toras” is translated as “this is the procedure”…how the priest must offer each offering.
The order presented also may be categorized according to how much of the offering is consumed on the altar [“achilat mezbayach”]. The totally-consumed olah is followed by the mincha (flour offering), which is either totally consumed [when brought by a priest] or partially consumed [kometz] and the rest eaten only by the priests. The following parts of the asham are offered on the altar:
The two kidneys and their surrounding fats
The lobe above the liver
Both the meat and flour (of the mincha) are eaten by the priests only within the courtyard of the Sanctuary. The shlamim (peace offering) is eaten by the owner anywhere in the camp after the fats; two kidneys and their surrounding fats; the lobe above the liver; and blood is offered on the altar and after the priest has received his portion.
No distinction is made between the voluntary and the obligatory. This contrasts with the listing of the offerings in last week’s parsha (Vayekrah) which is addressed to the nation and begins with the voluntary and then discusses the obligatory.
• Daily “olat tamid” brought each morning and evening in the name of the community
• Daily removal of ashes from the altar
• Preparation of the wood and fire on the altar
• Commandment that there be a continuous fire on the altar (aish tamid)
• Meal offering of flour (kometz) placed on altar
• Remainder eaten by the priest
• Minchat chinuch offered by the priest the first time he officiates
• Minchat chavitin daily offering of the High Priest
• Portion eaten by priests
• To be eaten in Sanctuary courtyard only
• Special laws relating to when the blood of the offering comes into contact with a garment or vessel
• Blood dashed against the sides of the altar
• Offering up of the fats; fat tail; the two kidneys and their surrounding fat; and the lobe above the liver
• Portion eaten by priest
• To be eaten in Sanctuary courtyard only
Additional priestly laws
• Entitlement to animal hide of the Olah
• Recipients of the leftover of the various types of mincha
• Todah (thanksgiving) offering for deliverance from sickness or danger
• Offering in fulfillment of a vow made in time of stress
• Freewill offering, when one feels gratitude
• Meat from the offering left over until the third day is called pigul (an abhorred thing) and must be burnt
• Laws relating to meat that becomes tamey (ritually unclean)
• General prohibition of eating…
Fats [that cover or surround the kidneys, liver, and the entrails in all animals (except for birds or permitted wild animals)]
Blood of any animal, even one not an offering. [Note: This prohibition may serve as a reminder that when we eat meat, the animal could have been a peace offering and provides an opportunity to consider the emotional impact these offerings had in the past.]
• Priest receives as a gift the breast and right thigh of the offering
On the “Taking Up” of the Ashes
The priests are commanded to remove the ashes on the altar from the olah (burnt offering) daily and to place them beside the altar (for collection and disposal).Then the priest changes his garments and brings the ashes to a “pure” location outside the camp.
Nechama Leibowitz surveys some commentators’ analyses of this commandment:
Sefer Hachinuch thinks that the purpose of the mitzvah was to enhance and beautify the Sanctuary. The flame on the altar burns better when there are no ashes beneath.
Rabbenu Bachaya (author of Chovot Ha-levavot) views this as an attempt to humble and remove any haughtiness from the heart of the priest who is obligated to do menial work after dealing with the more lofty activities relating to the korbanot.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch sees in this a symbolic message of bringing new zest and vitality to our daily religious life by first clearing away yesterday’s activities and work. Used clothing are worn for getting rid of yesterday’s ashes. Today we start fresh (i.e., put on “new” clothing).
“You Shall Not Consume Any Blood…"
…if any person eats any blood the soul of that person will be cut off from his people.”
Nechama Leibowitz cites a number of opinions regarding the prohibition…
Rambam’s understanding is that the ancient pagans drank blood in the belief that it was the food of the spirits and by drinking blood the demons would join and share information on future events. Or perhaps it would invest the blood drinker with the power of the living creature whose blood was being ingesting. Eradicating these idolatrous misconceptions necessitated the prohibition. Furthermore, the role of blood in Judaism is to be a purifying agent as part of a ritual of atonement.
Ramban notes that initially man was a vegetarian. Since all living beings share the same destiny, killing animals for food was prohibited. It was only after the Flood that Man was granted a dispensation to eat meat as a way of rechanneling his murderous drives from humans to animals. But blood is the vehicle for integrating spiritual with physical in all living beings. We are allowed to kill and eat the physical animal but not its life spirit.
Rav Kook supports the idea that permission to eat meat is a temporary dispensation. We need to be trained to be considerate of all living creatures and to be reviled by their death.
If we “are what we eat” the prohibition of ingesting animal blood may be a method for avoiding animalistic tendencies so that we can concentrate on our uniquely human character.
Our hypothesis is that tumah is a state of cognitive loss; a "death" or "dispirited" state during which one is so deeply depressed, apathetic, and/or guilt-ridden (on some level) that he/she no longer has the capacity to enter into any relationship--not with God and not with other human beings. Death and guilt can precipitate such negative emotions.
The person who brings an offering wants to undo this tumah state. He wants to build or re-build his relationship with God. On some deep unconscious level Man feels guilty for killing animals (and on an even deeper level for the unconscious primitive drive to commit murder). To ease this guilt, we dissociate ourselves from the animal’s essence by not eating its blood.
Furthermore, the acts of sprinkling and pouring blood on the altar may represent attempts on our part to further disavow and rid ourselves of these bad feelings by symbolically “returning” them to the source. This transference can only be ritually effected by the priests, God’s agents on earth.
On the Offering for an Inadvertent Sin [Chatas]
Rav B.S. Jacobson observes that “sin offering is obligatory for a transgressor who committed his sin inadvertently, not on purpose. Generally, there is no sacrifice for social offense.” Rav Jacobson cites an interesting theory offered by Rabbi Simeon Federbush regarding the need for a sin offering: During the earliest days of civilization, ethics was judged solely by the commitment of a criminal act without consideration of whether there was criminal intent. The Torah draws attention to the difference between acts performed intentionally and those done unknowingly, but limited Man’s responsibility for wrongs perpetrated without intention to the religious sphere. It is only for unwitting sins committed against God that there is penance by bringing a chatas (sin-offering) and only if accompanied by sincere morose and commitment to change. “Unwitting social offense, committed against fellow men does not entail any sin or guilt, in opposition to the ancient ethics which judges solely the act as committed.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks continues the discussion about why unintentional sins require any atonement at all:
Rabbi S.R. Hirsch reasons that ignorance is a form of negligence. We are obligated to be familiar with the laws. Also, we should always be aware of our behavior and actions.
Abravanel maintains that the sin offering is not so much a punishment for past behavior as it is a warning for the individual to be more careful in the future.
Ramban’s view is that sinful behavior, even without intention, defiles
The Lubavitcher Rebbe believes there must have been something amiss in the soul of the sinner for the unintentional mishap to have taken place. Behavior or words that seem unintentional may reflect unconscious desires or motives.
Rabbi Sacks concludes that “we cannot dissociate ourselves from our actions” by claiming ignorance. We need to perform an act of contrition in recognition of the wrong that was done by us, albeit unintentionally. “A culture that confines morality to the mind is one that lacks adequate defence against harmful behavior. The sin offering reminds us that the wrong we do, or let happen, even if we did not intend it, still requires atonement.” Morality is about action, not intention alone.
The Lonely Shalshelet
In his exhaustive summary of the art of cantillation, Chanting the Hebrew Bible, author Joshua R. Jacobson explains that the Yiddish word trop is derived from the Greek tropos or the Latin tropus, referring to a mode of extended melody in church music of the Middle Ages. How this Christian term became associated with synagogue ritual is unknown, but Rashi does use the Hebrew word trop to describe a sweetened chant which some speculate was referring to the practice of chanting the Priestly Blessing.
Cantillation is derived from the Latin cantare meaning to sing, according to the author.
The Talmud refers to the need to read Scripture with a melody. The notes/accents that guided the singing are ancient. The Talmud cites an opinion that the vowels and melodies were transmitted from Moshe. During the ninth century the Ben Asher School in Tiberias developed a system for notating vowels and punctuation like kamatz, segol, dagesh. They also introduced thirty symbols (Ta’ame ha-mikra/trup) that are used in the text to indicate melody; to indicate which syllable is to be accented; and to serve as a system of punctuation. Their text became known as the Masoretic Bible.
A scribe named Solomon b. Buya wrote the consonantal text of the entire Bible on a codex. (A codex consists of separate leaves that are gathered and bound together on the same side in multiple pages; a scroll consists of sheets sewn together to create a long horizontal roll.) Aharon Ben-Asher added the notations (nekudot and te’amim) to be a prototype text from which all subsequent texts would be derived. This book was kept in Jerusalem until 1009 when it was seized by the Crusaders. Several decades later it was brought to Cairo where Rambam studied it and urged that it be accepted as the most authoritative Masoretic text (at least with regard to paragraph endings).The codex was transported to Aleppo, Syria some hundreds of years later where it was carefully guarded for centuries by the Jewish community there, and came to be known as the “Aleppo Codex”. In 1947, rioters burned down the synagogue where it was kept. The Codex disappeared, and then re-emerged in 1958, when it was smuggled into Israel. On arrival, it was found that parts of the codex had been lost. The Aleppo Codex was entrusted to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
One of the rarest of the trup is the shalshelet (“chain”), which appears only four times in the Torah: three times in Sefer Bereshis and once in this week’s parsha. This cantillation calls our attention to a major internal struggle or crisis that is in progress. It represents a point in time when the individual struggles to transcend his base nature and, in doing so, elevate himself and define his persona and his destiny.
In this week’s parsha the note appears over the word vayishchat, when Moshe slaughtered the sacrificial ram as part of the installation of Aahron as Priest.
Rabbi Sacks explains that Moshe apparently was conflicted-- happy for his brother yet feeling a sense of loss for something that he himself could have had. His older brother Aharon would no longer be Moshe’s assistant and second-in-command, but would now assume a leadership position in his own right. Furthermore, unlike the priest whose children and descendants inherit this important role, Moshe’s children would not follow in his footsteps as prophet and leader. Concludes Rabbi Sacks, “Moses had to accept both facts with good grace if he was to be honest with himself. And great leaders must be honest with themselves if they are to be honest with those they lead.”