The first two Books of the Torah are devoted to the maturation of the nation of Israel from early roots of Mankind through the family sagas which culminated in the formation of a nation. In Sefer Shemos we learn how the “adult” nation struggled in defining its relationship with God. But relationships require a conscious effort and hard work if they are to continue. Sefer Vayikrah presents us with the behavioral rules for living that are critical in nurturing and expanding this connection.
These rules also are applicable to human relationships. When adults mature, marry and build a home for themselves (paralleling the Mishkan for the nation) some of the repeated notions are pertinent. In the home there must exist…
Korban-- drawing close to each other and sometimes sacrificing for each other
Tamid--constancy and consistency
Shlamim --peace and a sense of wholeness
rayach nechoach --a sweetness that permeates the home
The Book of Vayikrah is…
The shortest of the five books of the Torah
Inaccurately translated as Leviticus (from Latin/Greek) which suggests focus on the Tribe of Levi, when in fact it is the Priests (kohanim) who are the focal point
Fundamentally different than the first two Books of the Torah that are narrative in nature, tracing the creation of the world to the saga of the Patriarchs to our slavery and then Exodus to the Mt. Sinai experience to the building of the Mishkan
Filled with Mitzvahs-- except for two narratives (namely, dedication of the Mishkan, including the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu; and blasphemer who was executed)
Referred to as toras kohanim, “the law guide for priests”, but also meaning a manual for every one of us on how to achieve the ethical status of the priest, as in God’s promise that “You shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.
Permeated with ethical and behavior models embedded in the ritual and in the law necessary for both man and society to exist and to thrive:
o Some of the offerings to God (korbanot) are about generosity and experiencing and expressing gratitude towards both God and, by extension, to one’s fellow man.
o Others let us experience forgiveness, a behavior with which can improve our mental health in life. “God’s deep-rooted, unconditional love for the Jewish people teaches us how strong our love should be for every Jew”, writes the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
o Shlamim offerings of a large animal would be too much for the person bringing it to consume within the permissible time. So, he invites his family, neighbors and friends to share with him. This builds inter-personal relationships and community.
Broad Outline of the Book of Vayikrah
Laws of offerings (korbanos) for the individual, for the congregation and for the priest
Dedication of the Mishkan and ordination of the Priests
Laws of defilement and purification
Additional laws about sacrifice and food
Permitted and forbidden sexual relations
Ethical and ritual laws creating holiness
Laws for the priesthood
Sabbath and festivals
Shemita (Sabbatical) and Yovel (Jubilee) years
Blessings for observance of the law and curses for its violation
Laws concerning vows, gifts and dues
Separation is a major theme. Professor Robert Alter notes that the concept of setting apart (“havdil” root-word) is repeatedly manifest in the broad range of ritual, dietary and sexual laws. By accepting these rules, we set ourselves apart from other peoples (i.e., become holy). The Torah repeatedly reminds us of the need to keep our distance from the sacred Mishkan; no unauthorized person may encroach (“lo sikrav”). Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz points out that in Torah Judaism “holiness is an active principle, shaping and regulating every sphere of human life and activity”. God’s nation was to avoid both moral transgressions as well as ceremonial defilement to protect itself against the surrounding forces of pagan heathenism and animalism that threatened them.
Purification is another major theme. Profaning pollutants that need to be avoided include…
o Bodily discharges
o Various skin conditions;
o Mildew and other blights in buildings, utensils and fabrics
Pagans viewed these biological phenomena as portents of evil consequences necessitating incantations and rituals to avoid. The Torah approach is to define rules for dealing with the symptoms.
There exist four prime substances in the Mishkan and their global correspondence is in Nature, according to anthropologist Mary Douglas (cited by Professor Alter):
Fire is about the Divine. God is manifest in fire as experienced…
o In the burning bush
o In the Mt. Sinai, awesome pyrotechnic display
o In the travelling pillar of fire at night
o In Olah offerings that are completely consumed by fire
Blood, which courses through the veins of all living creatures, has a purgative effect whether spilled, smeared or sprinkled as part of the sanctuary ritual. The drinking of blood, the very life of the living, is prohibited
(Olive) Oil, a product of agriculture, is used for dedication of kings and priests
Water, existing in Nature without human intervention, is the universal symbol of purification and cleansing
Teaching Children Sefer Vayikrah
This age-old custom in Jewish education of starting young children off with the study of Vayikrah instead of Bereshis is based on the Talmudic dictum “…children are tahor (pure) and offerings are tahor. Let the tahor come and occupy themselves with tahor”. Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz’s view is that “as a result of its stern legislation, Israel’s sons and daughters were freed from the ignoble and the vile—from all brutality and bestiality. As a result of its sanctifying guidance, no people ever attained a higher conception of God, or a saner appreciation of the vital significance of health and holiness in the life of men and nations.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that because God’s love is unconditional the inherent bond between the Jew and God cannot become impure or soiled. He loves both the innocent child who has not yet studied Torah or performed Mitzvahs just as He loves the adult who “has gone off the path” but now seeks to mend his ways by bringing an offering.
Dr. Yehuda Valladares observes that a child’s mind is like a blank piece of paper. By studying Vayikrah the child is given a framework for coping with death, blood and other painful experiences that he will confront in his life. Growing up in an agrarian society, children were exposed to and comfortable with things like blood and animals and death. Children also are being taught at an early age that there can be forgiveness even if the “purest” person sins.
It may also be that the Rabbis want to expose the pure, unadulterated, clear-thinking minds of children to the profound human relationship concepts symbolized by and embedded in the korbanos. Let them absorb these ideas (unconsciously?) before their minds develop psychological barriers like denial, rationalization, and sublimation. I think it is significant that Avraham Avenu discovered God when he was only three years old. He found the Truth with clarity (“out of the mouth of babes”) before his conclusions and beliefs could be undermined by these psychological mechanisms.
Rabbinical commentaries to the Torah are called Midrash--stories, homilies, parables, and legal exegesis based on the biblical text. Collections that contain mostly stories, parables, and homilies are classified as Midrash Aggadah, while collections focused primarily on the derivation of law are called Midrash halacha. [Note: The word Midrash comes from the Hebrew root 'darash', meaning to search or investigate.] Midrash attempts, through minute examination and interpretation, to bring out the deeper or ethical meaning of the text:
Midrash Rabbah (meaning “the big Midrash”) contains volumes on the Chumash (Five Books of Moses) and the five Megillot (Five Scrolls, from Ketuvim).
Mechilta (Tractate) is a Midrash to Shemot (Exodus).
Sifra (“book” in Aramaic) is a halachic Midrash on Vayikra (Leviticus).
Sifre or Sifrei (“books” in Aramaic) is a halachic Midrash on Bamidbar (Numbers) and Devarim (Deuteronomy).
All are mainly Halachic. Some Midrashim are sometimes repeated in different collections.
Sifra also referred to as Torat Kohanim is among the longest and is believed to be based on expositions of the second century Rabbi Akiva and his disciples. Another, Vayikra Rabbah, was probably compiled around the fifth century CE, but includes material dating back at least to the third or fourth century.
“Vayikrah el Moshe”
The first verse in the Parsha reads “He [God] called to Moshe [“Vayikrah el Moshe”]. God spoke to him from within the Tent of Meeting, saying. Speak to the children of Israel and say to them…”
Whenever God spoke to Moshe, He first called out to him by name [Vayikrah] because of His deep affection for Moshe. [The word Vayikrah is an expression of caring, according to Rashi.]
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks sees in the wording a message that we each have a calling in life that gives our life meaning, which is something that we often get by helping others. Vayikrah is about sacrifices we often make in the course of experiencing that which we feel we were meant to do: “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.”
“God spoke to him from within the Tent of Meeting”, but the Israelites could not hear because, according to Rashi, the sound of the voice was restricted to “within the Tent of Meeting”. Professor Yehoshua Leibowitz (brother of Nechama Leibowitz) thinks that God’s booming voice extended beyond the Tent of Meeting but because the people had not prepared themselves to embrace God as Moshe had, they were incapable of hearing the divine communication. Moral: we need to prepare ourselves and to strive to listen with our “inner ear” if we are to hear God’s “voice” and message.
The Hebrew word Vayikrah is written, in an unusual manner with a small letter aleph at the end of the word. The Ba’al Haturim explains that without the letter aleph the word is vayikar, which denotes happenstance, a chance meeting. The humble Moshe preferred to view his relationship with God this way. God told Moshe to write Vayikra with an aleph, communicating a warm feeling and closeness. Moshe suggested a compromise to write Vayikra with a small aleph. The small letter draws our attention to both the role of compromise and to Moshe’s character.
It reminds us of the need to diminish our own ego and act with humility. Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew word for “me” (ani; anochi). We need to minimize our egos if we are to make room for the divine to become part of us. Having an inflated ego is as if one is usurping, He who is One.
S.D. Luzzato (Shadal), the 19th century Italian commentator, speculates that the small aleph reflects scribal technique. Early on, when the last letter of a word was the same as the first letter of the following word, the scribe would write one character to serve for both. Later when the words started to be written separately, one of them was written in a smaller size to draw our attention to the fact that it did not originally appear in the Text that way. This, according to Rabbi Hertz, demonstrates again “the profound reverence with which the Sacred Text was guarded by the Scribes”.
Throughout history man has felt the need to bring offerings to his deity. Primitive cultures employed these offerings (including, unfortunately, human sacrifice) as a means of placating the deity or evoking blessings for successful agricultural harvests. But the spontaneous offerings recorded in the Torah are different in that they are meant to express thanks and draw closer to God. In gratitude Cain brings grain; Hevel brings sheep; and Noah brings animal offerings when he emerges from the Ark.
On a psychological level, korbanos may reflect Man’s earliest aggressive murderous behavior, especially manifest in the offering of human sacrifices. Bringing animal offerings is a way of channeling this aggressive drive from murdering humans to killing animals. Moreover, in the depths of his soul (unconscious?), Man may sense that killing of live animals, though necessary for eating and survival, is wrong and violates a sense of cosmic order. Gaining control over the guilt of killing entails repetitive ritualization of animal offerings. This shared experience may create a kind of universal bonding that enables us to better deal with these deep-rooted anxieties and guilt.
The Torah is compassionate in its characterization of the way the animal is to be slaughtered. The Hebrew word used is not l’hamis (“put to death”) but “v’shachat”, which communicates a swift and painless way that causes the greatest effusion of blood and quick death.
In contrast to primitive pagan rituals whose details were only known by their priests, the Torah spells out all the associated rules and regulations and makes it our obligation to study. The Temple offerings, accompanied by Levites singing and music, inspired an elevating spiritual experience.
In addressing the new-born Jewish nation upon its Exodus from Egyptian society, the Torah states " ADAM KI YAKRIV MEKEM” (“Any man that brings a korban to Hashem close from you”). The key is that when we bring a korban, we are offering something of ourselves—our energies, our thoughts and our emotions. “Even a heathen may bring an offering, if he is moved to do so” notes Rabbi Hertz, but an apostate is denied the privilege of bringing an offering. Good intentions and positive thoughts are critical parts of the ritual.
The word korban is usually translated as “sacrifice”, from the Latin “to make sacred.” The word “sacrifice” has a negative connotation—to destroy, surrender or suffer to be lost for the sake of something; to destroy; to kill.
But the word korban in Hebrew also has a very positive meaning, related to the root-word karov, which means drawing near. A korban is an offering (usually an animal) through which Man builds or reaffirms a relationship with God. The donation emanates from a sincere inner desire to reach out and become close to God. The offeror’s placing of his hands between the horns of the animal at the beginning of the ritual emphasizes that the animal is the man’s representative or substitute. Others explain that the action indicates that it is his property that he is devoting it as his offering. Domestic animals are brought; these represent a real “sacrifice” for the person who offers them. Animals associated with uncleanliness or violence or stolen are not permitted.
There was no laying-of-the-hands on a (poor man’s) fowl offering and the entire ceremony was performed by the priest, possibly to enhance the importance of this poor man’s offering. Birds were not accepted as peace offerings(shlamim) because they were not considered enough for a sacrificial meal, according to Rabbi Hertz.
It is improbable that the sacrificial acts were performed in silence. Most likely they were accompanied by prayer and confession that imbued the ritual with spiritual significance. (Rabbi Hertz)
The eating of the Korban may be likened to “breaking bread” with a friend or a celebratory business meal. Salt, for preserving meat and used by the ancients for expression of friendship and for finalizing agreements, plays an important and symbolic role. It is put on all korbanos.
Certain korbanos can atone for unintentional sins (i.e., forgetting that a behavior was sinful) but not for deliberate, malicious sinning. But forgiveness occurs only if the offering is accompanied by sincere remorse and true repentance by the person bringing it. Too, in the event the sin involves harm to another, restitution must be made.
Following are approaches to understanding korbanos and their purpose, some of which are cited by Nechama Leibowitz:
Rambam advocates a rational approach to korbanos. The Jewish people, having grown up in and accustomed to a society in which animal sacrificial service was a universal method of worship, could not be expected to suddenly abandon this ceremony. They needed to gradually be weaned off this behavior. The animal offerings, as a first step, were designed to shift the focus away from a pagan deity to a deeper, meaningful relationship with God. The animals to be brought cannot have been worshipped or set aside for pagan worship or have killed people. The magic, magical incantations, blood drinking, violent and sexual orgies of the pagans were banned by the Torah. The korban was confined to one place, the Mishkan/Temple.
S.D. Luzzato (Shadal), the 19th century Italian commentato,r sees in these offerings an elevation of Man’s spirit. Instead of addressing a human king, one is serving the Divine One. Placing a korban on a fire converts the physical to the abstract. According to Shadal, the Hebrew word for holy (KoDeSH) derives from the Hebrew words yeKuD aySH (burnt by fire).
Rav S. R. Hirsch and others see the bringing of an animal offering expressing the idea that in sinning, one somehow had lost his intelligence and behaved in an animal-like way. By his placing of his hands on the head of the animal being offered the person realizes that by right it is he and not the animal that should be punished. This insight may help prevent repetition of sinful behavior.
Rabbi David Hoffman, following Ramban, thinks that the animal offerings are a positive means of promoting communion with God and symbolize one’s complete surrender to the Will of God (i.e., “sacrifice of the human ego on the altar of Divine will”).Initially, the Israelites were commanded to partake only of the meat of sacrifices, so as to sit at God’s “table”.(Note: the Midrash Vayikra Rabbah compares the bringing of sacrifices to a remedy proposed by a king to deal with his son’s addiction to forbidden meats. The king demands that his son always eat at the royal table to break his harmful eating habits.)
Rabbi Sacks’ analysis is that what we are offering up to God is not only the physical animal but, more importantly, the animal-like aspect of our personality. [Note: no wild, aggressive animals were permitted to be brought as korbanot.]
Each of the animal groupings mentioned represents one facet of our persona:
Behama (animal) refers to domesticated creatures, spending their time searching for food in the struggle to survive. “Sacrificing the animal within us is to be moved by something more than mere survival”.
Bakar (cattle) stampede without respect for boundaries. “To sacrifice the bakar is to learn to recognize and respect boundaries - between holy and profane, pure and impure, permitted and forbidden. Barriers of the mind can sometimes be stronger than walls”.
Tzon (flocks) is about the herd instinct to “follow the crowd”. Historically, our great leaders stood apart from and challenged prevailing unethical and immoral behavior. Sacrificing tzon is an act of renouncing and separating ourselves from the mob, thereby becoming kadosh –set apart and distinct.
Rabbi Sacks concludes that korbanos “can redirect our animal instincts. We can rise above mere survival. We are capable of honoring boundaries. We can step outside our environment…No animal is capable of self-transformation; but we are. Poetry, music, love, wonder - the things that have no survival value, but which speak to our deepest sense of being - all tell us that we are not mere animals, assemblages of selfish genes. By bringing that which is animal within us close to God, we allow the material to be suffused with the spiritual and we become something else: no longer slaves of nature but servants of the living God.”
The Name of God that the Torah uses with respect to the offerings is the Tetragrammaton (yud-hey-vav-hey) the attribute of Divine love and mercy--and not Elokim, the appellation of strict justice. When an individual sins and brings a korban, the death and burning of the animal on the altar gives him a strong visual of what he himself deserves, were God to judge him with the exacting scrutiny of strict justice. But God is not portrayed as vengeful, bloodthirsty demander of animal sacrifices as “payment” for sin, but the loving Hashem who provides the experience of korbanos to inspire us to change for the better.
It is difficult for modern man to understand how deeply moved ancient generations were by the sacrificial ritual. These people, who lived and worked in an agrarian society, experienced…
The feeling that his animal was a substitute for a punishment he deserved
The pomp and circumstance of the priests in their elegant garb
The beautiful sounds of Psalms being read and sung
The musical accompaniment
… which, all together, created an atmosphere in which people could be inspired. For them, the performances of solemn rituals in a sacred place were dignified and meaningful.
The prophet Hosea observes that despite the cessation of these rituals after the destruction of the Holy Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. “so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips”. Prayer and discussion and study substituted for the offerings. Franz Rosenzweig thinks that the prophet does not mean “prayer instead of sacrifice” but that training through prayer lays the groundwork for renewal of the sacrificial service. Or perhaps the verse means that by using our lips to study and discuss the past, we may reach a point where we can imagine and almost experience our forefathers’ emotion and inspiration when they brought their offerings.
Over time the korbanos degenerated from being the means for improving behavior and reconnecting with God to insincere lip service. Not only did they become an empty ceremony, but offerings were used to grant atonement for the abominations that were being committed. When this happened, the Prophets furiously condemned these and all other insincere and hypocritical rituals:
Jeremiah: “your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing unto me”
Samuel: “Does God delight in burnt offerings and sacrifice? To obey [God] is better than sacrifice, to hearken [to God] than the fat of rams”.
Hosea: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”
Amos: “Though you offer me burnt offerings and your meal-offerings, I will not accept them…but let justice well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream”.
Isaiah: “to what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me…?”
In the Talmud Rabbi Akiva is quoted as having explained, that God is not rejecting sacrifices per se, only the hypocritical and meaningless way they are being brought.
Professor Yechezkel Kaufmann elaborates that it was only because they did not heed God’s words and they behaved wickedly that the sacrifices were not pleasing to Him.
Similarly, explains Rabbi Sacks, that “They were not criticizing the institution of sacrifices. They were criticizing something as real now as it was in their time. What distressed them to the core of their being was the idea that you could serve God and at the same time act disdainfully, cruelly, unjustly, insensitively or callously toward other people. ‘So long as I am in God’s good graces, that is all that matters.’ That is the thought that made the Prophets incandescent with indignation. If you think that, they seem to say, then you haven’t understood either God or Torah… To serve God is to serve humanity … I believe that to love God is to love our fellow humans. To honour God is to honour our fellow humans. We may not ask God to listen to us if we are unwilling to listen to others. We may not ask God to forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others. To know God is to seek to imitate Him, which means, said Jeremiah and Maimonides, to exercise kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.”
Writes historian Max Dimont, "What they [the prophets] said was remarkable for their time: that ritual and cult in themselves were of no value to God. Humanity, justice, and morality were superior to any cult. They said God did not want rituals; He wanted higher moral standards from mankind. They said that God abhorred sacrifice [without heartfelt repentance], that it was no sin not to offer sacrifice, that the sin was corruption and the perversion of justice. These were fantastic and daring notions in those days when sacrifice and ritual were religion itself."
The Torah opposes any form of magic or superstition, yet some phrases seem to suggest otherwise. For example, when describing the Oleh offering the Torah uses the phrase “V’nirtza lo L’chapair alav” (“it shall be accepted for Him to forgive”).The Hebrew root chapair means “atonement” or “purging away sin” or “reconciliation to restore the sense of close relationship with God that is lost through sin, evil, desire or constant brooding upon sinful things”.
Nechama Leibowitz surveys how commentators understood this phrasing:
o Ramban offers several approaches. The Torah may mean that the worshipper shall return and be reconciled to Him (God) through the medium of the korban. Or it could mean that the sin will be “paid off” or “atoned for” by him (Man). Alternately, it may mean that it (the sin) shall become acceptable to Him (i.e., pardoned by God).
o Rabbi Y.Z. Mecklenburg, in his Ha-ketav Ve-hakabalah, thinks the phrasing means that the act of bringing a korban will inspire Man to purify himself, to make amends, to confess and show remorse. A korban does not automatically bring forgiveness from God. The offering is a symbolic representation of a person’s desire to repent and reconnect with God.
The phrase “Olah eeshay rayach nechoach lashem” (“a burnt offering by fire of a sweet smell unto God”) seems to mean that, like humans, God can be pleased with and influenced by the appetizing smell of roast meat! How is that possible?
Ibn Ezra understands this to mean that the worshipper is acceptable to God, in the same way a man is pleased by a sweet smell.
Professor Umberto Cassuto sees the phrasing as a metaphor alluding to God’s acceptance and approval of the inner intentions (gratitude/repenting) of the one bringing the korban.
Rav E. Ashkenazi in Maasei Ha-shem notes that smell is among (if not the) most sensitive of our five senses. When one “smells something is in the air” it means he senses that something is about to happen. God’s “Smelling the Korban” is a poetic way of stating that He already senses the positive changes the worshipper will make in advance of its happening.
Parsha Vayikrah speaks to each one of us-- “If an individual among you wishes to offer a Korban…” -- then provides a listing of which Korban is to be offered and for what reason. Those that are voluntary (n’dava) are presented first, followed by those that are obligatory (i.e., chova, in the event a person sins). The animals brought must be perfect (unblemished). Good intentions are critical in all offerings. The voluntary offerings listed first testify that the person bringing it has good intentions.
… Are arranged by category and type of animal. The individual brings an offering of his own choosing either an unblemished animal that is burnt entirely on the altar or flour or an animal that he can share the eating of with the kohanim. All offerings need to be salted. Slaughter, considered a preparatory act, may be performed by a non-priest. The Priests’ role begins with the rituals involving the blood of the offering.
The internal order of the list of voluntary offerings is based on how much of the offering is consumed on the Altar. Olah, totally burnt, is followed by Mincha which is either totally or partly burnt and the remainder eaten by the Kohanim. The blood and fat of Chatas and Asham are offered on the Altar and the meat is eaten by kohanim (as a gift from God, not the owner).
Shlamim meat is eaten by the owners after the blood and fat are offered on the Altar and after the thigh and breast are given to the kohanim. This kodshim kalim (lower level of holiness) can be eaten anywhere in the camp --in contrast to the previous offerings that are of a higher level of holiness and can only be eaten in the courtyard of the Mishkan (and only by kohanim).
The following animal parts are burned on the wood that is on the outside Altar:
The layer of fat that covers the innards and all the other fat adjacent to the internal organs. Rav Adin Steinsaltz explains that the fat covers the muscles to protect the internal organs; to control body temperature; and to control hormonal activity. It also is a food repository that is digested by the body when it lacks nourishment.
The two kidneys and the fat that is on them and on the flanks, which extends to the hindquarter
The diaphragm that is above the liver (but not the liver itself)
[Note: Shuman, the fat that is integrated into meat and muscle tissue, is permitted for human consumption.]
• Entirely burnt on the Altar (except for the hide)
• From male cattle, sheep or fowl
• Representing total submission to God
Mincha (means “a gift”)
Unleavened flour offering with frankincense and oil. The donor selects from one of the following five options for how to bake the bread. Even if not a priest, he can pour the oil and place the frankincense. The priest scoops out a quantity of three-fingers which is burnt on the Altar. The remainder is eaten by the kohanim:
• Unbaked (high-quality flour, oil, frankincense)
• Baked in oven (unleavened loaves mixed with oil or unleavened wafers smeared with oil)
• Shallow fried (high-quality flour mixed with oil) broken into pieces
• Deep-fried (hi-quality flour, oil)
• Omer (fresh kernels of barley harvest, parched in fire and coarsely ground; oil and frankincense added by priest
Shlamim(meaning peace or complete)
• Select fatty portions burned on the altar
• Shared and eaten by the kohanim and the owner
• From cattle, sheep (male or female) or goats
• Represents thanks or gratitude to God; the person is experiencing “peace of mind”
• The fats that are burned from the sheep include the entire long and fatty tail; a goat’s tail is not.
… Are arranged by seriousness of transgression committed.
Chatas (sin offering) …
Fixed offerings for unintentional sins committed through carelessness in violating any Torah prohibition that is punishable with kares (being “cut off”; excision) had it been done intentionally even after warning and witnesses. Unlike other offerings when the blood is cast or poured directly from the bowl, the blood of the sin offering is smeared on the wall of the Altar by the priest using his finger.
o Eaten by the kohanim
o Listed by the level of sanctity of the sinner:
Chatas of High Priest who erroneously rules that a forbidden act is permissible, and then follows this ruling. After slaughtering the bull, the High Priest enters the Sanctuary and sprinkles the collected blood toward the paroches (curtain) that separates the Holy of Holies from the Sanctuary.
• Using his finger, he then places some of the blood on the horns of the Incense Altar(inside)
• He then pours the remaining blood at the west side of outside Altar (the side that faces the entrance to the Tent of Meeting).
• He then burns the same sacrificial portions as those of the previously described peace offering.
• The parts of the animal not burned on the Altar are burned outside the camp where the ashes of all burnt offerings are brought
Chatas of Sanhedrin (High Court) -- when it issues an erroneous ruling permitting an aspect of a severe transgression-- is a male goat. The blood and sacrificial rituals of the slaughtered bull that are done by the High Priest are the same as those performed when he himself sinned (as described above)
Chatas of the Leader is a male goat. Using his finger, the priest sprinkles or smears the collected blood on each of the four horns of the outdoor Altar.
Chatas of a citizen is a she goat or lamb. Priest uses his finger to place blood on the four horns of the outside Altar. The remaining blood is poured out at the base of outer Altar. The internal organs that are burned are the same as those of the shlamim, including fat of tail
Variable sin offering for transgressions that do not carry the punishment of kares (excision) when they are performed intentionally, and the sinner usually does not get any pleasure
or personal benefit. Offerings are on a sliding scale, depending on the sinners’ finances:
o One who hears an oath, and is witness to a certain occurrence or knew about the occurrence and refuses to testify in court
o One who forgot that he had touched an impure thing and either entered the Temple or ate sacrificial food
o One who forgot that he took an oath to perform or to abstain from a specific activity and violated his oath
Asham (guilt offering; always a ram) …
… for specific transgressions that “stem from indifference and a blurring of the boundaries between permitted and prohibited actions” (Rav Steinsaltz):
o Unintentionally misappropriating Temple property for personal use
o Possibly violating a commandment
o Acting deceitfully against God by lying about an item deposited for safekeeping
o Acting deceitfully against God by dealing falsely with fellow man regarding a business deal
o Acting deceitfully against God by lying about robbery
o Acting deceitfully against God by withholding wages
o Acting deceitfully against God by finding a lost object and denying it
The Chatas (Sin) Offering…
…was brought for unintentional sins. But if the sinner did not mean to sin, why the need for atonement? Following are some answers:
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rav Dovid Hoffman think that ignorance is a form of negligence. The individual should know the law as well as what he is doing.
Abravanel reasons that the offering was meant to be a warning against sin in the future, not a punishment. The associated cost and effort would remind someone to be more careful in the future.
Ramban argues that the offering was not so much about the sin itself but about the defilement that results. The sin is a blemish on the soul --which is only worthy to be accepted by God when it is pure of all sin.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe maintains that something must have been wrong with the individual (subconscious thoughts) to have committed even an unintentional act. “Remarks or acts that seem unintentional often betray unconscious desires or motives” (a Freudian slip) notes Rabbi Sacks.
Our actions have consequences and make a difference in the world. Judaism is a religion of deed, not creed, but it still recognizes the difference between good will and bad. Intentional sins cannot be atoned for with a korban, but unintentional ones can. “The sin offering reminds us that the wrong we do, or let happen, even if we did not intend it, still requires atonement.”
Korbanos in the Future
We pray daily for the speedy restoration of the Temple’s sacrificial service and note the service’s connection to Jewish nationalism and independence. Even Rambam the rationalist predicts that in the days of the Messiah, “all korbanos will again be offered.”
The reason for this may be that the most profound aspect of korbanos is Man’s ongoing effort to build and maintain a relationship with God and to ultimately bond and feel united with fellow Man. That is what we yearn and pray for. Also, I think that during prayer what we are expressing is our desire to emote and to experience the powerful emotions that inspired the people bringing korbanos.
Stu Dubner notes that it was desirable to restrict animal killing to a controlled environment (Mishkan or Temple) where relationship-building is the primary goal. This limitation will be as necessary in the future as it was then. Permitting people to bring their own offerings on their own private altar could precipitate a return to idolatrous and pagan worship.
Some critics of korbanos think that these “barbaric” ceremonies conflict with “humaneness.” However, it is worth noting that it is in Judaism alone that there exists an unequivocal prohibition of bloodshed, blood consumption and violent orgiastic ritual. As noted, korbanos are about rechanneling aggressive pagan and idolatrous behavior and about building and strengthening relationships. Is it possible that societies that lack understanding of the rationale for and practice of animal offerings are the ones experiencing a return to primitive (and perhaps not so unconscious) murderous behavior???