Parshat Vayikra introduces us to the world of korbanot- sacrifices. A system completely foreign to us. Or is it? Today we have no Temple and prayer has replaced the sacrifices. If so, doesn’t Parshat Vayikra offer us deep insights into how to serve Hashem? Let’s investigate.
Parashat Vakirah Summary
- The world of sacrifices
- What animals can be used for sacrifices
- Types of sacrifices
- Sin offering
- Guilt offering
- Peace offering
Parshat Vayikra And Sacrifices Today?
The world of sacrifices is a world that is completely foreign to our ears. Why does the Torah legislate such practices and what are we as, modern society to learn from them?
For many, when they hear that we are starting the book of Vayikra, we start to groan and complain. There are almost no stories in the book. The book is filled with laws of sacrifices, purity and laws of Kohanim. All of which are foreign to us. Yet we learn a fascinating teaching. That in the days of the Talmud, the school curriculum stated that we start the teaching of the Torah for young children, by teaching the laws of sacrifices. The reason is that the world of Sacrifices can only be appreciated in the pristine world of purity and innocence.
Vayikra: Where Are We In The Torah?
For the past 5 weeks, we have learned about the building of a special place the Mishkan. Last week the Book of Shemot – Exodus concluded with the Mishkan built and ready for operation. But what was to happen there? The Book of Vayikra- Leviticus- opens with a detailed description of sacrificial services that were to take place in the Mishkan. The array of detail is incredible. From what animals are to be brought, to what event they are being brought for. Are you bringing a sacrifice as an atonement or for thanksgiving? What is your financial situation can you afford a cow or a bird?
Are you a simple Jew or a prince and leader of Israel? Parshat Vayikra gets into the details of the situations of sacrifices. It is as if we are reading a manual on how to use the Mishkan.
The book then continues to describe the multiple sacrifices that are to be brought. What happens when we sin with food? What happens when we are struck by a leprosy? What happens after the birth of a child? How do we celebrate the festivals? Do we ever have to cleanse the Mishkan? Yes on Yom Kippur.
Yes, the book on the surface seems dry but dig a little deeper and one unlocks some incredible wisdom.
No Honey Nor Leaven
In Parshat Vayikra we are taught that we cannot add honey or leaven to a sacrifice but salt is okay. (Lev 2:11-12) Why? The author of the Sefer Hachinuch suggests a beautiful answer. To bring a sacrifice to the Mishkan showed a person’s devotion in his service of Hashem. The Torah was concerned that two things could happen when one came close to Hashem.
On the one hand, there was a risk of leavening. The leavening process is one that is slow. A slow-paced development. This is not the Torah way. The Torah demands electricity and fire in the service of Hashem. Slow development becomes an excuse for inactivity and lack of commitment.
Honey on the other hand is added, sweetness. This is an external addition to the required service. Although honey is sweet and the action may lead to a sweeter experience in one’s service of Hashem. Since this is not the natural or commanded way the result would mean that only when I taste the sweetness of the religious experience will I engage in the service of Hashem. The Torah was worried that although the initial experience may be sweet. The risk of not continuing in the service over time was too much of a risk and thus was band.
The leaven and the honey represent two excuses not to serve Hashem or obey His commandments. These twin additions to the sacrifices are band by the Torah because the risk to serving Hashem were too great.
The Torah in its details of Parashat Vayikra teaches us that this is the way to serve Hashem. To serve Hashem in His way. This stands in stark contrast to the enthusiasm of the worship of the Golden Calf. There the people tried to serve Hashem in their way. It didn’t take long for this service to mutate into idolatry. By adding the honey and the leaven, on the surface may sweeten the sacrifice but the risk of mutation was too great.
Where Does Salt Fit In?
If so why then can we bring salt? Does that not go against the entire thesis? The answer given is that salt draws out the flavour that is inside the sacrifice. A little bit of salt can indeed draw out the flavour. Too much salt destroys the food completely.
This is the difference. When it comes to serving Hashem to add a bit of salt, to draw out inspiration from the Divine service is permitted and indeed encouraged. As the Torah states brit melach – there is a covenant with the salt. We need to use the salt to draw out the flavour and inspiration. But, when we try to add too much to the spiritual experience we can destroy it.
We need to find inspiration within the service and draw it out. But when we try to add too much of our own flavour we run the risk of destroying it.
Parshat Vayikra calls to us to serve Hashem in His way. For it is the only true way to connect with Him.