Vayikra, the third book of the Torah, is also called Torat Kohanim, the teaching of Priests, because so many of its laws revolve around the service and lifestyle of the Levite priests, descendants of Aaron. This is the source of its English name, Leviticus. Sometimes it is viewed as a collection of arcane laws of animal sacrifices and ritual purity. The first Torah verses that children learn are from Vayikra.
This week’s parsha talks about the various forms of korbanot. In the first pasuk of the parsha, Hashem speaks to Moshe from the Ohel Moed (tent of meeting). Throughout the torah, we find that every important sentence starts with the words, “Hashem spoke to Moshe.”
The Torah follows these crucial words by discussing the category of voluntary offerings, and then moves on to elaborate on the details of obligatory sacrifices. These sacrifices protect a person until he either is exempt from his sin or is punished further and would need to bring an additional offering: a full guilt offering.
The Midrash teaches us that G-d said, “Let the pure ones come and involve themselves in the pure laws, and I will consider it as if they brought a sacrifice before me.”
Vayikra (Leviticus) opens with the laws of the sacrifices that would be offered in the mishkan. A korban olah is a sacrifice that is burned from either cattle, goats, sheep, or birds. A korban minchah is an offering of grains mixed with oil and incense. A korban shelamim is a peace offering, that is burned on the altar, and the remainder is eaten by Kohen who offered it. A korban chatat is a sin offering brought for accidental transgressions. A korban asham is a guilt offering brought for specific sins. The procedure differs depending on the type and severity of the sin.
There are three different asham sacrifices where the words occur twice. One of which is the unauthorized use of sanctified material. If a person intentionally uses sanctified material, they are not liable for the 25% fine to bring a sacrifice, because the main purpose of these obligations is to bring Hashem honor. They are not meant to atone for the act, rather they are brought not for the direct act itself, but for side effects or for temporary protection. The suspended asham for someone unsure if he is liable for a guilt offering. It is brought directly for a sin even if the sin was intentional. For one who uttered a false oath in an attempt to deny monetary liability, the Ashem gezeilos is brought. This korban brings forgiveness for a sin between man and his fellow man, it can affect forgiveness for an intentional sin.
Sages teach that when someone gives a korban of thanks and another gives a korban of guilt, they go to the same place to offer the korban. This was done in order to prevent anyone from being embarrassed. When we talk about guilt, it is helpful to think about why guilt occurs and how we can avoid it.
Of course, it is impossible to never sin. In the obligation to bring a sin offering, the Torah uses the words “Melachos”, meaning that the person did one of them referring to Shabbos and the primary and principal categories of forbidden work and their derivative subcategories. Sometimes, one does not know that their act is forbidden and will bring one sacrifice for many sins. This also applies to knowing that sins are forbidden, but not knowing the day is Shabbos.
A person must set out for himself what is important in life, and then make sure that all the many branches of life stem from these fundamental principles. This is true in its own study and actions. One must realize that all of his actions are done in accordance with the principle, and all of his traits should be developed and used to attain the goal of walking the path of the just.
Vayikra also discusses laws of Tzaraat (discoloration of skin and possessions) and the sanctity upon the calendar; outlining the major holidays. As they prepare to enter the Promised Land (Israel), G-d tells the Jews that they must rise above their neighbors by not engaging in forbidden relationships, serving idols, or mimicking other practices of the surrounding nations. Kohanim will not come in contact with dead bodies. Kohanim who are deformed will not serve in the Beit Hamikdash, and only unblemished animals are to be used as sacrifices. Ancestral fields are returned to owners at the 50th year, and debts are to be canceled in the 7th year. Farm work is forbidden during both time periods. In the last section, G-d tells the Jews that that following the laws leads to in living in peace and security. Ignoring the Torah leads to persecution, starvation, and fear. But G-d will always remember and redeem us.
By: Abigail Gottlieb (9th Grade)