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Torah Sparks

April 3, 2004 - 12 Nisan 5764

Annual: Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36 (Etz Hayim, p. 613; Hertz p. 429)
Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 8:1 - 8:36 (Etz Hayim p. 621; Hertz p. 435)
Haftarah: Malakhi 3:4 - 24: 3:23 (Etz Hayim p. 1295; Hertz p. 1005)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick
McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


A review of the laws of the karbanot (sacrifices) followed by intricate details of the ordination of the Kohanim.

Triennial I: (Leviticus 6:1 - 7:10)

6:1-6 - The Olah: Commonly translated as "burnt offering," the Olah was a sacrifice consumed in its entirety on the altar, with no meat left over for the kohanim and others to eat. The root of the Hebrew word Olah means ascension, going up, because the entire sacrifice went up in the fire.

6:7-17 - The Minhah: This was a grain offering prepared with flour and oil and topped with aromatic frankincense. The Minhah was also brought as a voluntary offering. A piece of the dough was offered as a sacrifice, and the rest was eaten by the kohanim.

6:18-23 - The Hatat: This was the "sin offering" required of a person who unintentionally had committed a wrongdoing.

7:1-10 - The Asham: This "Guilt Offering" was required for a person who had misappropriated property. In addition to bringing the sacrifice, the person offering an Asham was also required to restore what he had taken and pay a 20% penalty in order to ensure forgiveness.

Triennial II: (Leviticus 7:11- 7:38)

7:11-18 - The Zevah Shlamim: This "Sacrifice of Well-Being" was brought by an individual as an act of gratitude in celebration of a happy occasion. It differs from the Olah, which provides no leftover food for anyone, and the Minhah, of which only the kohanim may partake, in that it both the kohanim and the worshipers may share the residual meat after the sacrifice.

7:19-21 - Laws of Ritual Purity for those handling the sacrifices.

7:22-27 - Repetition of Prohibition of Blood and Fat.

7:28-34 - More laws about the Zevah Shlamim.

7:35-38 - Summaries of sacrificial laws.

Triennial III: (Leviticus 8:1 - 8:36)

8:1-5 - The dedication of the Mishkan in front of the entire congregation.

8:6-36 - Moses and Aaron themselves perform the ordination of the kohanim. They are cleansed thoroughly with water, anointed with oil and then dressed in ritual garments: a robe, a colorful band known as an ephod, a majestic breastplate into which were placed the divine oracles of the Urim and Thumim. The coup-de-grace was a headdress adorned by the Keter, the divine crown of royalty.

Following the dressing ceremony, Moses anointed himself, his brother Aaron, and all of Aaron's sons, then girded them in tunics and sashes and turbans.

The remainder of the ordination ceremony involved the use of two rams. One was slaughtered as an olah and, after the kohanim had dipped their hand in the blood of its head, that blood was sprinkled on the altar. The blood of the second ram, however, was physically applied to the ears, the thumbs and the toes of the kohanim before the meat of the bull was offered as a celebratory meal. The final ceremony of ordination involved dipping the ritual garments of the kohanim in the blood of the sacrificed animals.

Topic I: Do we need to do teshuvah for doing the right thing with the wrong intention?

"He led forward the bull of sin offering Aaron and their sons laid their hands upon the head of the bull of sin offering, and it was slaughtered. Moses took the blood and with his finger put some on each of the horns of the altar. Thus he consecrated it and purged it [made expiation for it]." (Leviticus 8:14-15)

  1. When offerings for the Tabernacle were being collected, some persons may have contributed under pressure, or while they were carried away by the general enthusiasm without really wanting to make such a gift, it was necessary to make atonement for such possible deficiency, (Sifra and Targum Yonathan on the verse)
  2. Antigonos of Sokho received the tradition from Shimon HaTzaddik. Do not be like servants who serve their master expecting to receive a reward; be rather like students who serve their master unconditionally with no thought of a reward. Also, let the reverence of God determine your actions. (Ethics of the Fathers 1:3, located in the old Sim Shalom page 603)
  3. Getting Closer With Each Step: Moses said, "I will turn away and see this great sight, why this bush is not consumed." It has been said that the Baal Shem Tov derived a lesson in teshuvah from the Burning Bush, in the text quoted above from Exodus, Moses says, "Ashurah, I will turn away." Why would Moses have an audience with God and then turn away? Ashurah is an unusual word. Rashi writes that it means "to go away from here and come close there." This is what teshuvah is, says the Baal Shem Tov "getting unstuck." It's about movement and transformation. It's not about arriving but about approaching. (Meditation by Rabbi James Stone Goodman for 24 November in Restful Reflections: Nighttime Inspiration to Calm the Soul, Based on Jewish Wisdom, edited by Rabbis Kerry Olitzky and Lori Forman, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001)

Seeking to lead a spiritual Jewish life is often not an easy task. I have to confess very honestly that when I first read the teaching of the Sifra, my first reaction was one of deep discouragement. Here the day has finally come to anoint the holiest men of the Jewish people and to charge them with their task, and along come commentaries to say, "Be humble to the possibility you might make a mistake and be prepared to make amends." They haven't even yet begun to lead, and already there are those who will assume they will act erroneously. The cynical take on this teaching as, "If Moses and Aaron, Miriam and Rebecca, the members of the Great Sanhedrin, and all our great spiritual role models can't get it right, what hope is there for the rest of us?

But there is another teaching here, one laden with the compassion of our tradition. This is the essence of Jewish theology, which teaches two fundamental facts about humanity's relationship with God: 1) No human being ever has been or ever will be the personification of God. God alone is God, and our task is to do our best to live in a way that is in accordance with God's expectations of human behavior. 2) The other side of this equation is that when we do fall short of perfection, as even Aharon Hakohen might have done on his ordination day, we can turn back to God through the act of teshuvah and receive forgiveness.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some appropriate ways for making amends for unintended wrongs we commit so frequently and unconsciously: The grudging doing of chores, the distracted reaction to exciting news? In other words, the unintended slights we commit which can cause so many hurt feelings when ignored, but can strengthen and heal relationships when teshuvah is made.

Topic 2: Loving God with all our abilities' through action

"...and it [the ram] was slaughtered. Moses took some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron's right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and no the big toe of his right foot." (Lev. 23)

  1. In this figure, he indicated that the fully consecrated must be pure in words and in actions and in his whole life; for words are judged by hearing, the hand is the symbol of action, and the foot of the pilgrimage of life. (Philo on the Life of Moses II: 130. on Leviticus 8:23)
  2. And you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  3. Follow the Lord Your God (Deuteronomy 13:3). What does this mean? Is it possible for a mortal to follow God's presence? The verse means to teach us that we should follow the attributes of the Holy One, Praised be God. As God clothed he naked, you should clothe the naked. The Torah teaches that the Holy One visited he sick; you should visit the sick. The Holy One comforted those who mourn; You should comfort those who mourn. The Holy One buried the dead; you should bury the dead. (Sotah 14a, reproduced on page 19 of the old Sim Shalom Prayer book)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Other passages in the Tanakh and the rabbinic literature contain metaphoric expressions of how we are to act "Betzelem Elohim," also referred to in Latin as in "Imitateo Deo" - in the image of God. Yet this passage in our parashah goes so far as to physically touch parts of the kohanim's bodies as a reminder that blood is a symbol of life, ad we affirm the centrality of life in all or deeds. While our sages frowned upon attributing physical form to God, they were quite explicit about what it meant to lead a divinely inspired life. In addition to the examples cited above, can you think of other tangible ways we imitate the positive aspects of God through our own actions?

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