Thursday, March 23, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Vayikra - Vayikra (Leviticus) 1-6:7 (Hebrew Scriptures 1-5:26)


This week's Parasha shares its title with the Book's title, which means "And He called - to Moses", continuing with, “and YHVH spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying…" (literal translation).  The Hebrew syntax of this opening verse is somewhat awkward and obscure. Let us try to find out why. The book of Sh’mot ended with (literal translation): “… so Moses finished the work.  Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of YHVH filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of YHVH filled the tabernacle…  the cloud of YHVH was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys” (Ex. 40:33-35, 38 italics added). Given the fact that during this season Moshe found himself unable to enter the Tent of Meeting because of YHVH’s glory, hearing suddenly the sound of his name would have startled and bewildered him. If written from his vantage point, this strangely formulated text “and He called to Moses, and YHVH spoke to him…” could express his uncertainty as to the source of the sound, until he gathered his wits about him and realized Who was calling him.

"Any man, if he brings an offering of you…" (v.2) starts the long and detailed discourse on the sacrifices. It is quite significant that the laws of the sacrifices begin with the word 'man', “to teach that man is the subject and not the object of the sacrifice”, says Seforno. He continues elaborating thusly: "If he brings an offering of you", that is, from your very selves, with a confession and with due submission, in the spirit of the Psalmist's, 'The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit' (51:17), for the foolish who offers sacrifices without proper humility will find no acceptance".[1] "Brings an offering" is condensed into one word - yakriv -  rooted in k.r.v (kof, resh, vav), which we have already encountered in Parashat Tetzaveh (in Ex. 29:1), and means to “bring near", sharing its root with "korban" - "an offering" or a "sacrifice". Clearly, the purpose of the offerings is primarily to draw the worshipper near or close to YHVH, albeit? according-to-His-stipulations. At the same time, this verse could also be read to mean that, that the offering is "of you". Someone (presumably the priest) is offering you" to YHVH.

The first type of offering presented here is the "olah", the burnt offering, a noun that originates with the root a.l.h (ayin, lamed, hey) for the verb “aloh” - meaning to “go up or ascend"; or in a different conjugation, to “raise, elevate, or lift up". Thus, the burnt offering is that which is lifted up to YHVH. The animal is to be “tamim” - "whole, perfect, or faultless". Noach, who "walked with Elohim" was declared "tamim" in his generation (Gen. 6:9); Avraham was told by YHVH, "walk before Me and be tamim" (Gen. 17:1). In Parashat Tetzaveh we examined the Oorim and Toomim (Ex. 28:30), that were to be carried "before YHVH", noting again that the meaning of "toomim" is "perfect." Hence, that which is to be brought before YHVH (or anyone who walks with or before Him) is to be "perfect" or "whole" (again, according to His specific requirements). Consequently, that which was to be "lifted up" (the olah - the burnt offering, along with the peace offering, 3:9, sin offering 4:3, and the guilt or trespass offering, 5:15) had to be in that state or condition, being a reflection of the offerer’s heart attitude, as we shall soon see.

This "korban tamim" had to be brought to the door of the Tent of Meeting, "that he may be accepted - lir'tzono - before YHVH" (1:3 italics added). The question arises here, 'who is being accepted?' Is it the sacrifice, or is it the one making the sacrifice? The answer offered by Prof. Nehama Leibowitz is as follows: "Accepted does not refer to the offering but to the offerer. Acceptance is not an automatic result of the sacrifice; it alludes to the intention that prompts the offering and the spirit in which it is brought. God's will is not swayed by the offering, and He is not thereby "forced" to draw nearer to man. Rather, the offering expresses man's desire to purify himself and come closer to his Creator".[2] As we can see, "bringing up" (offering) the "korban" marks the process of reform or internal change, and is expressed by an outward action. "Acceptance" is also denoted by an external act of the offerer's hand, as it lays on the offering itself (1:4). In Parashat Tetzaveh we noted the purpose for the "laying of the hands" ( of the root to “lean" - Ex. 29:10), as "an identification with the korban which is about to give up its life, denoting ultimate submission”.

After the animal is slaughtered, its blood sprinkled, its skin removed and its body parts arranged on the wood, the priest was to wash its "entrails and legs". In Hebrew the entrail is called "kerev" (1:9). The "kerev" (or "k'rava’yim" in plural) is the "inward parts". We have just observed that the noun and verb for "offering" and "to offer", respectively, are of the root k.r.v, meaning "near or close", and so are the "inward parts", all of which appear to symbolize the "drawing near" to YHVH on the part of the offerer who himself undergoes a genuine inward change. The "legs" here are "k'ra'ayim", which is of the root k.r.a (kaf, resh, ayin), meaning to “kneel or crouch”, and is the word used for the two front bending legs of the animal, thus creating an allusion to the required attitude of submission and humility.

When all is cut up properly, washed, and burnt up by the fire it produces "a sweet savor to YHVH" (1: 13). A smell of any kind is always a harbinger. This aroma, therefore, symbolizes the change that has taken place within the person who puts his confidence in YHVH (by relying and leaning on Him), and who is humbly drawing near Him. The smell’s “soothing aroma” is “rey’ach ni’cho’ach”. The latter stems from the root (noon, vav, chet) that we encountered in Parashat Noach (Gen. 6:9 – 11:32), where we learned that it is the root for “rest” and connected to the protagonist’s name – Noach – who himself brought an offering – an “olah” – which in B’resheet (Genesis) 8:21 is said to have sent off a “soothing aroma”. It follows, then, that the aroma is indicative of the fact that an issue has been settled and brought to rest. In Romans 12:1 we are told “to present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to Elohim”. It is only natural, then, that 2nd Corinthians 2:15 adds that, “we are to Elohim a sweet savor of Messiah” if indeed we have genuinely offered ourselves up to Him.

The next offering is the meal offering, "mincha" (2:1), which is thought to be of the root m.n.h (mem, noon, chet), meaning "a gift or a tribute".[3] Ka’yin (Cain) brought a "mincha" to YHVH (Gen. 4:3, 4). This type of offering, as it is presented here, is made up of variable mixtures of grain, oil, frankincense, and more, and is always baked or fried without leaven or honey (could the latter prohibition be associated with the honey being derived from an insect?), although there are somewhat different stipulations required when it is offered as a first fruit (ref. 2:14-16). "A soul, if it should offer…" (2:1) is the introductory phrase to the "mincha" regulations, as well as to the sin offering (4:2) and guilt offering (4:27). The term "soul" (“nefesh”) rather than "a man" (although not always reflected in the translations) which was used regarding the burnt offering, may point to the place from where the person's true intents issue forth. This is particularly appropriate in the case of the “mincha”, as it was the only offering that all could afford – including the poor.

Following the "mincha" is the "peace offering", "zeva'ch sh'lamim" (3:1). The word used here for the offering is no longer "korban" but "zeva'ch", which is "slaughter for sacrifice". Quite appropriately our Patriarch Ya’acov is seen offering a “zeva’ch” when he and Lavan (Laban) were reconciled, making peace with each other (Gen. 31:54). "Shlamim" is of the root sh.l.m (shin, lamed, mem), meaning "whole, complete, or full”, being also the root meaning of "shalom" – “peace” - from which the word for "payment" is derived. Thus, when He cried out "it is finished" (John 19:30), Yeshua the Perfect ‘Ze'vach’ who paid the full and necessary price, so that we may have peace with YHVH, summarized-His-tremendous-undertaking-in-one-word.

Next is the sin offering which denotes a korban offered for sins committed inadvertently - "korban chatat" (4:2ff.). Chatat is of the root ch.t.a (chet, tet, alef), and primarily means to “miss a goal or a mark". But as is often the case in Hebrew, the same root can apply to another word - opposite in meaning - creating one of the language's characteristics of dynamic tension and paradox. Thus the root ch.t.a, used in a different conjugation, also forms a verb that means to “cleanse or purify" (e.g. Lev. 14:49, 52; Num. 19:12, 13). Hence the cure is contained within the very affliction itself. Prof. Nechama Leibowitz points out that in the case of this type of "missing the mark", as presented here, "the offerings imposed on the leaders of the people involve a greater burden than those required of the ordinary people".[4] Let us examine some of the relevant verses: "If the anointed priest shall sin so as to bring guilt on the people" (4:3 emphasis added), as compared to 4:13: "And if the whole congregation of Israel shall err" (emphasis added), and compared again to: "When a ruler sins… and is guilty" (4:22 emphases added). The usage of the various terms here, as they relate to the respective parties, speaks for themselves.


The remains of the sin offerings were to be burnt "outside the camp" (Lev. 4:12,21). Similarly, in Hebrews 13:11-13 we read: "For the bodies of those animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp.  Therefore Yeshua also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach".

In dealing with the sin offering, a singular new term is introduced - confession. The first 13 verses of chapter 5 enumerate the various offenses which, aside from incurring the need for a sacrifice, also require a confession (ref. v. 5) - "vidu'y", of the root y.d.a (yod, dalet, hey). The root "yada" stems from "yad" – “hand” - and its basic meaning, therefore, is to “cast or throw". Many times, it is used in connection with casting stones. However, it is also the root of "thanksgiving" and "praise" (hence the name Yehuda). Just as the word for "teaching" (from which we get the noun “Torah”) stems from the act of "shooting" (an arrow), so do these terms of “thanking, praising, and confessing”, issue forth from a root denoting activity. It is no wonder that the hand is symbolic of all of these expressions, as it is able to stretch forth and reach further than any other part of the human body - thus rendering it an instrument of communication. This root and its derivatives shed light on the society which made use of them, demonstrating its vibrant relationships and animated? communicativeness.


Lastly, the Parasha deals with "guilt offerings", which were also to be offered upon sins being committed inadvertently. But in this case, before making the sacrifice, reparations had to be paid (5:14-6:7). By the same token, Yeshua says: “If you offer your gift on the altar, and remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go. First, be reconciled to your brother [compensate him for what your behavior has caused him to suffer or lose], and then come, offer your gift" (Mat.5:23,24). “Committing a trespass” is the term used for this individual, and in Hebrew “tim’ol ma’al”. In the recent Parasha of Tetzaveh (ref. particularly Ex. 28:1ff), we noted that the clothing of the priests is connected to this verb, “ma’al”, which speaks of “unfaithfulness and treachery”, since “m’eel”, the “outer garment” was worn by priests, and other high ranking individuals [5]. (Another such term, “ba’god” is identical to “ma’al”, while “begged” is, again, an “outer garment”). Do these connections of disloyalty to articles of clothing suggest the proverbial nakedness of the unfaithful individual who at the same time tries to hide his faults under a covering, this especially being the case among persons of high rank (as 4:3ff, 22-26 point out? In Hebrew Insights into Parashat Tetzaveh, it was suggested that the priests clothe themselves with the said garments, symbolically covering their spiritual and moral nakedness so that they can minister and interpose between an equally sinful people and a kadosh Elohim”.


Surprisingly (as it predates Yeshua’s ultimate sacrifice), the trespasses in the last category are all marked by actions that without question are committed knowingly, either by lying, extortion, false swearing, and theft (6:1-5) and yet atonement and forgiveness are also made possible for these intentional sins.

As mentioned, in all of the last three types of offerings, we observe faultless ("tamim") animal sacrifices. There is no mention of laying hands on the animals in the course of performing the "guilt offering", but it exists in the case of both the peace (3:2,8,13) and sin offerings (4:4,15ff). In all cases (except for the meal offering), blood is involved: "for it is the blood which makes atonement-for-the-soul"

Notice that only clean animals fit for consumption were to be offered up to YHVH. Therefore, whenever offerer and priest would share in eating the sacrifice,
both parties would be partaking of YHVH’s-table.

Finally, in chapter 2:13, in the passage dealing with the "meal offering", we read: "And every offering of your food offering you shall season with salt, and you shall not let the salt of the covenant of your Elohim be lacking from your food offering; you shall offer salt with all your offerings". Yeshua makes reference to this perpetual salt covenant in Mark 9:49-50: “For everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice will be salted with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt becomes saltless, by what will you season? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another". Being who we are in Yeshua, we are rendered a salted sacrifice burnt by fire unto the peace (completeness, fullness) which He made "by the blood of His cross" (Col. 1:20), sealing the covenant for all eternity.

[1] New Studies in Vayikra Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

2 Ibid

3 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.

4 New Studies in Vayikra Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

5 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.







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