April 1, 2006 - 3 Nisan 5766
Annual: Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 585; Hertz p. 410)
Triennial: Leviticus 3:1 - 4:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 592; Hertz p. 415)
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 606; Hertz p. 424)
Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL
Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director
The third book of the Torah is often called Torat Kohanim, a primer for the priesthood. The first several portions (parashiot) deal with the laws of sacrifice and of ritual purity, laws that for the most part have fallen out of practice today. However, there are still many valuable insights we can learn from all of these laws.
The book begins with the laws of the olah, the burnt offering. The olah was offered in its entirety upon the altar, with no special benefit going to the person who brought it. Offerings, which were to be brought from the herd or the flock, had to be a male without blemish. Similarly, it could have been a bird - a turtledove or a pigeon. Grain could also be offered as a sacrifice. Perhaps the idea behind this variety of offerings is that sacrifices were not just for the rich; people of all financial levels had access to the Temple service.
The second category of sacrifices is the shelamim, from the word shalem or wholeness. This is usually translated "offering of well-being," and can be brought from the male or the female of the flock. Some parts of the animal were offered up to God by the priests and other parts were eaten. Blood and certain fats could not be eaten, however; sacrifice-based laws still remain in effect today for foods that Jews do not eat.
The third category of offering is the hatat or sin offering. Various types of offerings are available if a priest sinned, or the leader of a community, a chieftain or an individual Jew had sinned. Various other sins and guilt offerings are mentioned, in particular, the sin of a witness who withholds information.
Issue #1 - Love and Sacrifice
"Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, when any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, you shall choose your offering from the herd or from the flock" (Leviticus 1:2)
- The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban. It comes from the Hebrew root krv, which means "to approach" or "to get close." What is the relationship between "getting close" and sacrifice? The Hebrew word seems to imply that if we wish to get close to someone, we have to sacrifice something. We cannot become close to anyone else when we are focused on our own needs and our own desires. Only when we set ourselves aside and focus on the other can we truly love them.
- Many people think they love someone else when in truth they love themselves. They are focused on their own needs. True love requires a sacrifice of your own needs. Can you give an example? What sacrifice is involved in the love of a couple for one another? What about the love of a parent for a child? What sacrifices do we make to show our love of God?
- "When love depends on achieving a certain goal, love vanishes when that goal is achieved. But when love is not dependent on any goal, that love never vanishes." (Pirkei Avot 5:18) What does this have to do with sacrifice? (Hint - If we love someone with the goal of fulfilling our own needs and desires, that love will disappear when our needs are fulfilled. But if we love unconditionally, with no ulterior motive and no expectations, our love will flourish.)
- Kabbala teaches the principle of tzimtzum, (self-contraction). God practiced tzimtzum to allow the world to flourish. How can we practice tzimtzum in our relationship with those we love?
Issue #2 - What Will We Sacrifice?
"If his offering is a sacrifice of well-being - If he offers of the herd, whether a male or a female, he shall bring before the Lord one without blemish" (Leviticus 3:1)
- We have spoken about the sacrifice we must make for love to exist. Are there other areas of life where sacrifice is necessary for our well-being? Possible examples:
- We want to have a perfect body without undertaking the difficult discipline of regular exercise and a healthy diet.
- We want a great marriage without taking extended one-on-one time with our spouse or lover.
- We want to raise successful, happy kids while spending less and less time with them.
- We want to be at the top of our profession without paying our dues or working our way up the ladder.
- We want spirituality without learning or observing the disciplines necessary to grow our souls.
- We want to perfect the world (tomorrow!), forgetting that social change is a long, arduous process.
- Finally, too many young people (and not a few adults) experiment with drugs looking for instant highs, forgetting that real highs come from hard work and accomplishments.
- The Talmud says, "According to the pain is the reward." (Pirkei Avot 5:23) Or as moderns often put it, "No pain, no gain." Anything worth doing in this world involves discipline, sacrifice, commitment, and sometimes a little pain. What are we willing to sacrifice for what we find worthwhile?