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Torah Sparks

March 15, 2008 – 8 Adar II 5768

Annual: Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 585; Hertz p. 410)
Triennial: Leviticus 1:1 – 2:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 585; Hertz p. 410)
Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17 – 19 (Etz Hayim, p. 1135; Hertz p. 856)
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 15:2 - 34 (Etz Hayim, p. 1281; Hertz p. 995)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

The book of Vayikra is known as Torat Kohanim, the Teaching of the Priests, for much of it concerns things that fall within priests’ area of responsibility – the korbanot (sacrifices), ritual impurity and ways in which it is removed, and the Yom Kippur purification ritual. The initial parasha of the book describes the different types of sacrifices that were to be brought by individuals.

Almost all the olah, or burnt offering, was completely consumed on the altar, except for the animal’s hide. An olah could be cattle, sheep, goats, birds, or even grain, depending on the donor’s means. The minhah, or grain offering, was only partially burned on the altar. The remainder was given to the priests to eat. There were two types of minhah, the communal grain offering made on Shabbat and festivals and the individual offering brought by those too poor to afford an animal for an olah. The zevah sh’lamim, the offering of well-being, was only partially burned. After the designated portions were removed and placed on the altar, the rest became a sacred meal shared by the donors and the priests. A person who committed a sin accidentally or unknowingly was to bring a hattat, a sin or purification offering. Community elders also would offer a hattat when the entire community had committed a sin inadvertently. Finally, the asham, or guilt offering, was to be brought when a person was unsure if he had sinned or when he wanted to make amends for a sin previously committed against another person. In the latter case, the asham was in addition to making restitution and paying a fine to the person who had been wronged.

1. Are You Talking to Me?

The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: (Vayikra 1:1)

  1. [In the Sefer Torah, the aleph of Vayikra is written smaller than the other letters.] Moses was both great and humble, and wanted only to write Vayikar, signifying “chance,” as if the Holy Blessed One appeared to him only in a dream, as it says of Bilaam [vayikar, without an aleph] – suggesting that God appeared to him by mere chance. However, God told him to write the word with an aleph. Moses then said to Him, because of his extreme humility, that he would only write an aleph that was smaller than the other alephs in the Torah, and he did indeed write it small. (Baal HaTurim [Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, 1275-1340, Spain])
  2. Mordecai had this message delivered to Esther: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” (Esther 4:13-14)
  3. The length of time the Israelites lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. (Shemot 12:40) Rabbi [Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi] says: One passage says they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years (B’reisheit 15:13) and one passage says, And they shall return here in the fourth generation (B’reisheit 15:16). How can both these passages be maintained? The Holy Blessed One said: If they repent I will redeem them after the number of generations and if not, I will redeem them after the number of years. (Mekhilta Pisha 14)

Sparks for Discussion

According to the Baal HaTurim, Moses, who was known for his humility, did not think there was anything special about him that warranted his being chosen by God – he was simply there in the right place at the right time.

This may be the most interesting question in the study of history – do people shape events or do events shape people? Are the men and women we read about in history books there because of their unique qualities or by chance? Put in the starkest possible terms, if someone had strangled Hitler in his crib, would the Shoah have happened? How do these texts address the question? How do they suggest that God might answer it?

2. What Did You Bring Me?

Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock. (Vayikra 1:2)

  1. Why [is adam (man) rather than the expected ish] stated? Just as the first man (Adam) did not bring an offering from anything that was stolen, for everything was his, so you shall not bring an offering from that which is stolen. (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. For I desire goodness, not sacrifice; obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
  3. A stolen lulav is invalid [for performing the mitzvah]... Stolen myrtle branches are invalid... Stolen willow branches are invalid... A stolen etrog is invalid. (Mishnah Sukkah 3)
  4. It is forbidden to fulfill a commandment by means of a transgression. (Sukkah 30a)

Sparks for Discussion

As the verse from Hosea makes clear, sacrifices are not an end in themselves but a means to an end. The person who brings a stolen animal for a sacrifice or who steals to offer a more impressive sacrifice than his means allow has missed the point. How would you apply this insight to our modern forms of worship and ritual?

Imagine that you are on the board of a shul, school, or charitable organization. The board is approached by someone who offers a sizable donation, money that is very much needed. However, the prospective donor is known to have made his money through illegal activities. Do you accept the donation? Does it matter what type of illegal activity was involved – for instance, if it were insider trading or the use of substandard construction materials that led to injuries and deaths? What do you think about this argument: If your organization accepts the money it will be used for good, providing scholarships for poor children or supporting a food pantry, but if you refuse it, the prospective donor will wind up spending it on lavish parties or a yacht? What if the donor earned the money through activities that are legal but unsavory – cigarette manufacturing or “adult entertainment”? When, if ever, does money become “treif?”

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