Vayikra 5778 (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26)

Rabbi David Stav

This Shabbat, we begin reading Leviticus (Vayikra), the third of the Five Books of Moses. The first part of the parsha deals with sacrifices, prompting our rabbis to name the book “Torat Kohanim” – the Torah of the Priests. We generally do not identify with sacrifices, and the subject sometimes draws objections, so this parsha presents us with a golden opportunity to discover more about the topic.

Parshat Vayikra follows an organized structure. The voluntary offerings are discussed in the first three chapters, while the laws pertaining to mandatory offerings are enumerated in the last two chapters. What’s striking, though, is that one chapter seems out of place. After discussing the Olah offering, which was brought voluntarily, the Torah proceeds to the Minha offerings, which were plants, and only later, in chapter 3, the verse reverts to animal offerings in the form of the Shelamim.

Would it not have been more appropriate to simply complete the discussion of animal offering before proceeding onto plant offerings? What is the significance of separating the Shelamim and the Olah offerings, as if they existed in two completely different domains? It seems as though the Torah wanted to imply that these two sacrifices are leap-years away from each other, requiring a separation between the sacrifices by interposing the Minha plant offerings.

We can perhaps explore more unique levels in the world of sacrifice through this distinction. Why did people make offerings voluntarily? What did they get out of it? The root of the word korban, sacrifice, is karov – close. People want to draw closer to God, and doing so requires alacrity. This holds true for friends, couples, families, or anywhere else people wish to build a deep and honest relationship. It holds true with respect to drawing closer to God as well.

When a person wants to express a yearning to reconnect with God, it is manifested, inter alia, through offering sacrifices on the altar, and the person does not stand to derive any benefit from the offering. The act of giving and sacrificing is part and parcel of the determination a person wishes to demonstrate. It is about wanting to elevate and sanctify something from within, such as thoughts or goals. The offering is not eaten. It is a manifestation of the totality of the link between Man and God, when we wish to underscore our shortcomings and our complete dependence on God.

The Minha offerings discussed in the parsha are partially eaten by the priests, yet their owners do not enjoy them in any way. The Shelamim offering is substantially different, though. Everyone – the owner, the priest, and the altar itself – consumes the offering. It is called Shelamim because it brings peace to the world, a world with room for everyone.

Those offering the Shelamim do not do so out of a sense of crisis or despair – quite the contrary. They want God to be present in their bountiful lives. One can worship God out of a sense of distress, which this desire to draw closer to God.

Sometimes, the challenge is to understand that we need this sense of proximity to God because we living in this abundant and comfortable reality. We find an excellent expression of this in Tehillim: “To declare your benevolence in the morning, and our faith in you at night.” Night, by nature, gives rise to the need for faith, since without faith, we are left with nothing.

When a person faces economic or physical hardship, prayer, which substitutes for the olah offering, becomes the clearest choice. When living in abundance, though, a person might downplay the need for content or meaning. That is where the shelamim offering steps in, and this is also what sets it apart from the olah and minha offering.  

Pesah is approaching, a time when we retell and reminisce of our nation’s history. The Shelamim offering can connect us to the right insights. Our generation enjoys a life of abundance. Previous generations lived through hardships and shortages, yet even when living in austerity, their homes had enough room for everyone. There was room for everyone at their Seder tables and at other times, when they opened their homes, filling them with guests. There was room because they were kind-hearted. This is analogous to the korban olah, which enables the totality of giving precisely during troubled times.

We still face this challenge today, living in our significantly roomier homes. We must remember to open our homes and make room for others through the abundance we enjoy. We must make room for God, for values, and for the shelamim – and we must never eat alone. It’s about the desire to continually draw closer, and this is the test that we face.

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