Vayikra

  • Rav Avraham Walfish

Parshat HaShavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion

 


 

PARASHAT VAYIKRA

 

by Rabbi Avraham Walfish

 

 

 

The book of Vayikra marks a departure from the narrative flow of the Torah through its first two books. The conclusion of the book of Shemot seems to look forward towards Bemidbar. Concluding the construction of the Mishkan with a description of the divine cloud hovering over it, as the divine glory fills the Tent of Meeting, the Torah devotes the three final pesukim of Shemot (40:36-38) to the role of the divine cloud in the travels of the people through the wilderness: "And when the cloud went up from above the Mishkan, the children of Israel would journey, for all their journeys. And of the cloud would not go up, they would not journey, until the day of its going up. For the cloud of Hashem was upon the Mishkan during the day, and fire was there at night, before the eyes of the children of Israel in all their journeys." These pesukim, in fact, are echoed and expanded in Bemidbar 9:15-23, which serve as a keynote for one of the dominant themes of Bemidbar, the journey through the wilderness. Seen from this vantage point, the immediate continuation of the end of Shemot is the command, at the beginning of Bemidbar, to conduct a census, in order to ready the people for their journey towards the promised land (see Rashbam to Bemidbar 1:2). Accordingly we would view the book of Vayikra as a non-narrative interlude between the end of Shemot and the beginning of Bemidbar.

 

A closer look at Vayikra will reveal that it does indeed possess two narrative sections. The first section, Chapters 8-10, narrates the sanctification procedure of the Mishkan, during the 8 days of ordination (milu'im), including the tragic death of Nadav and Avihu. The second, Chapter 24:10-23, describes the execution of the blasphemer of the name of God. The inclusion of these two narrative portions in the book of Vayikra seems, however, just to highlight how different and separate the book of Vayikra is from the other 4 books of the Torah. The second of these two sections is a self-contained story unit with no apparent connection to the narrative line of Shemot-Bemidbar. The first is a direct continuation of Shemot 40:33, "And he erected the courtyard around the Mishkan and the altar and he placed the screen to the entrance of the courtyard, and Moshe completed the work", and also harks back to Shemot 29, which contains instructions for the sacrifices of ordination. Why were these 3 chapters set apart from the rest of the story relating to construction of the Mishkan in Shemot and inserted as a kind of "foreign body" into Vayikra?

 

Later, as we discuss other parashot in Vayikra, we will - please God - note the significance of these two narratives, from a literary-structural point of view, in grasping the conceptual movement of the book. For the time being, we will simply note the thematic similarity of these two narratives: both deal with the fateful, indeed fatal, consequences of overstepping the bounds required by Hashem's holiness. Nadav and Avihu, who trespass the bounds mandated by the Sanctuary and its service, are struck down by Hashem. The blasphemer, who impugns the sanctity of the divine name, is executed by the people. Thus these two narratives dramatically underscore the central theme of the book of Vayikra: divine sanctity and its attendant requirements. In any event, they do not alter the essentially non-narrative character of Vayikra.

 

What is the point of this interlude, which interrupts the narrative flow of the Torah? (For further reflection regarding this question, refer to Study Question 1). Ramban, in his introduction to Vayikra, explains that the commandments of Vayikra are a direct outgrowth of the end of Shemot: the laws concerning sacrifices are the logical continuation of the presence of the Shekhina in the midst of the people. We may advance textual support for this idea from the wording of the first pasuk: "[He] called to Moshe..." - why does the Torah diverge from the normal introductory formula, "Hashem spoke to Moshe...", by adding the call? The answer to both questions is implicit in the final pesukim of Shemot, as noted by the Ramban to the first pasuk of Vayikra: "Scripture says here "[He] called to Moshe and Hashem spoke to him", unlike other passages, because Moshe was unable to enter the Tent of Meeting (see Shemot 40:35) in order to approach a place where God is present (based on Shemot 20:21) except through being called..." (further discussion of this Ramban in Study Question 2).

 

The relationship between the presence of the Shekhina and sacrifices may be understood in one of two ways: (a) "sacrifices atone for the people, hence iniquities will not cause the departure of the Shekhina" (Ramban, Introduction); (b) sacrifices may be understood as a positive expression of the relationship between Israel and the Shekhina that dwells in their midst. R. S.R.Hirsch noted that this is the real, literal meaning of the term korban: "The makriv desires that something of himself should come into closer relationship to God, that is what his korban is, and the procedure by which this greater nearness to God is to be achieved is called hakrava." (For further discussion of the term korban see Study Question 4). þR. David Zvi Hoffman, in his introduction to Vayikra (Hebrew translation, p. 64), writes: "The sacrificial service is bound up internally with human awareness of God. As soon as man became aware that there is a Supreme Being in whose hands his entire existence was placed, he immediately felt an inner desire to recognize this Supreme Being as his master and to give this recognition concrete expression, namely: first through words, and subsequently, as his emotions intensified and pressed to erupt into concrete expression, also through palpable and vigorous actions, and not only through evanescent words."

 

Of course nobody disputes that some sacrifices, such as Chattat and asham are designed to expiate sins. These sacrifices, however, are brought bedi'eved: either, in the case of the individual, when he knows he has sinned; or, in the case of most communal sin-offerings, because we presume that someone in the community must have sinned. The issue we are investigating is whether voluntary sacrifices, such as olah and shelamim, are also designed for the sake of expiation.

 

R. Hoffman supports his understanding of sacrifices by surveying the history of sacrifices through the book of Bereishit: Cain and Abel (Bereishit 4:3-5 - olah and mincha), Noah (8:20-21 - olah), Avraham (22:1-13 - olah), Jacob (31:54, 46:1 - zevach = shelamim). In none of these cases does the sacrifice appear to serve as a means of atonement. These sacrifices seem rather to express in positive and concrete fashion aspects of the God-man relationship (regarding further sacrifices, in book of Shemot, refer to Study Question 3). We will refer back to these sacrifices later on.

 

The opinion of Ramban, however, also is grounded in scriptural evidence. Some commentators have proposed understandings of sacrifice similar to Ramban's, in order to make sense of difficult pesukim, such as Jeremiah 7:22-23, Tehillim 40:7, which declare that Hashem doesn't want sacrifices and didn't command to bring them. Radak, for example, to Tehillim 40:7, explains: "For the initial commandments of God to Israel were only that they should hearken to His voice... and when they began to sin, He commanded them regarding the sacrifices: individual sacrifices for the specific sinners and communal sacrifices, such as the daily tamid offering, because it is inconceivable that there not be among all of Israel many sinners daily, many of whom will not know what they themselves ought to sacrifice, hence the communal sacrifices will atone for them when they repent their sins."

 

But in order to support the Ramban it is not necessary to cast our net as far as Jeremiah or Tehillim. I believe the Ramban's view is grounded in the languageused by our parasha to describe the first of the voluntary sacrifices, the olah: "And he shall lean his hand (vesamakh) on the head of the olah and it shall be acceptable for him (nirtza lo) to expiate on his behalf (lekhaper alav)" (1:4). The term ratzon, and especially the term lekhaper, would seem to indicate that the function even of this voluntary sacrifice is to expiate. Chazal indeed assume that the olah serves to expiate. According to Sifra (Chapter 4, Section 8), the olah atones for positive commandments and negative commandments which may be remedied by positive action. According to R. Shimon bar Yochai (Vayikra Rabba 7:3), the olah atones for improper thoughts. (For R. Hoffman's understanding of Chazal, refer to Study Question 5.)

 

We may wonder, however, why the Torah is silent regarding the nature of the sin for which the olah is meant as expiation. Other sacrifices, such as chattat and asham, have a clear object of kappara. See, for example: 4:21, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 18, 26. However there are instances where kappara of other sacrifices also seems to be non-specific in nature. See, for example, Bemidbar 8:12, where the process of consecrating the Levi'im for their role in the Mishkan service includes a chattat as well as an olah "to expiate for the Levi'im". The term kappara also appears in the context of sacrifices which are designed to purify, rather than to atone for sins. See, for example, 15:15, 30.

 

In order to determine whether the function of kappara indeed supports the reading of sacrifices as a bedi'eved phenomenon, grounded in the need to atone for sin, we need to examine the etymology of the term. There are three explanations traditionally suggested for the root kipper: (1) "It would appear to me that all uses of kappara in the context of iniquity and sin... are all in the sense of wiping and removal, as in the Aramaic usage" (Rashi, Bereishit 32:20); (2) "the meaning of 'rubbing' for kippur is not Hebrew, but only Aramaic usage... for kappara is never for the sin, but [Scripture] will say "to expiate for their souls" (Shemot 30:15)... and they are all [based on] the usage "and each man shall give kofer for his soul" (Shemot 30:12), meaning - redemption" (Ramban, Bereishit 32:20); (3) "the literal meaning of akhappera panav is - I shall cover his face" (R. Hoffman, Bereishit 32:20). J. Milgrom (Anchor Bible - Leviticus, pp. 1079 ff.) sums up the etymological evidence regarding the verb kipper: "In biblical poetry its parallel synonym is usually macha 'wipe' (Jer 18:23) or hesir 'remove' (Isa 27:9), suggesting that kipper means "purge"... Other poetic passages will use in parallel kissa 'cover' (Neh 3:37), giving the contrary notion that kipper connotes smearing on a new substance instead of effacing an existent one. Philologists have been divided on the etymology, because evidence from Semitic cognates can be cited in support of either connotation, mainly from Arabic ("cover") and Akkadian ("wipe"). Yet both meanings may go back to a common notion: "rub". Because a substance may be "rubbed on" or "rubbed off", the derived meanings, "wipe" and "cover" may be complementary and not contradictory... The purgation of the impurities from a person... requires the elimination of the wiping material... This leads to the phenomenon of the "substitute" or "ransom"... This notion of the kipper carrier is clearly represented in the Bible in the cases of the scapegoat (16:10, 21-22) and the broken-necked heifer (Devarim 21:1-9)..."

 

Which of these meanings of kipper best corresponds to the function of the olah offering? The key to answering this question lies in the text which served most of the commentators cited above as the base text for their interpretations, the first appearance of this verb (in the pi'el - see Bereishit 6:14 for its use in binyan kal) in the Torah. Bereishit 32-33, in describing the encounter of Jacob with Esau and Jacob's painstaking preparations for their meeting, utilizes several terms which are associated with the sacrificial service: mincha (gift - 13, 18, 20, etc.), kappara (20), ratzon (33:10), re'iyyat panim ("seeing the face" = meeting, encountering - 20, 33:10; compare Shemot 33:17 and parallels), yissa panai (20; this term concludes the priestly blessing - Bemidbar 6:26 - which is associated with the sacrificial service: Vayikra 9:22-23; Mishna Tamid 5:1).

 

The association of encountering Esau with bringing of sacrifices is not accidental, as is clearly indicated by two pesukim spoken by Jacob. In the second of these pesukim, 33:10, Jacob implores Esau to accept his mincha because "I have seen your face, as one he see the face of elohim and you have accepted me (vatirtzeni)". Elohim here is purposefully ambiguous: does Jacob mean a powerful man (Onkelos), as Esau is sure to understand it, or does he mean a divine being, as those who have read the account of Jacob's nocturnal wrestling match are likely to assume? The latter understanding is further supported by the earlier 32:30, in which Jacob explains the name Peni'el: "for I have seen elohim face to face and my life was saved." When Jacob addresses Esau, he alludes to a private meaning of re'iyyat penei elohim which only he - and the reader - understand, whereas Esau cannot appreciate it. Only Jacob - and the reader - know that the real point of Jacob's encounter with Esau goes beyond reconciliation with the brother from whom the blessing of Isaac was stolen. The point is to re-obtain the blessing, legitimately and above dispute. Hence the wrestling match concludes with Jacob demanding and receiving the angelic blessing, a blessing which includes a name change in which the name associated with the theft of the original blessing ("Jacob" suggests trickery, see Bereishit 27:36) is replaced by a new name, Yisrael, suggesting a legitimate struggle and a legitimate victory (32:28). And Jacob-Yisrael subtly alludes to this underlying purpose in his colloquy with Esau: "Please take my berakha (gift - punning on the word for blessing) which I have brought you" (33:11).

 

The key term in this passage is the frequently-repeated re'iyyat panim, which designates the appearance of a supplicant before his superior. The rest of the terminology used divides into two parts: the preparation for re'iyyat panim and the desired outcome of the re'iyyat panim. In preparation for re'iyyat panim, the supplicant offers a mincha, a tribute which expresses his awareness of dependence upon his superior. This mincha facilitates kappara, without which the supplicant dare not enter the presence of his powerful, and potentially dangerous superior. The purpose of the encounter with the superior is to obtain ratzon, favor, in order that the superior favor the supplicant with his berakha, blessing.

 

How, then, will we understand the concept of kappara? In the case of Jacob, there is a wrong to be expiated (at least from Esau's perspective). However, the idea of offering a tribute in order to be allowed into the presence of a superior certainly is not restricted to cases where the subject has wronged his lord. If the tribute is always associated with kappara, then we may assume that kappara comes, not in order to remedy a specific wrong, but rather to render the offerer of the tribute acceptable in the eyes of his lord. Perhaps the idea may be understood as follows: the supplicant, mindful of his inferior position (a consciousness much keener in monarchic societies than in modern democracies), feels unworthy of entering the presence of his lord. He fears that his lord will perceive his entry as brazen audacity. The tribute is meant to express his awareness of this anomaly, to reinforce the correct perception of the encounter as a meeting of unequals.

 

The encounter and dialogue between man and God, while possessing a uniquely transcendent and numinous character, is usually patterned on models of analogous human encounters: subject-king, child-parent, bride-bridegroom. We have already noted the analogy alluded to in the Jacob-Esau encounter, between re'iyyat panim of a subject before his lord, and the re'iyyat panim of a man before God. This analogy is reinforby a well-known passage in the prophet Malakhi, Chapter 1: "And when you bring a blind animal to sacrifice, there is nothing bad, and when we bring a lame or sick animal there is nothing bad - kindly offer it to your governor: will he receive you favorably (yirtzekha) or will he accept you (yissa panekha)?"

 

The terms kappara and ratzon, associated with the olah, suggest that the main function of the olah relates to re'iyyat panim. The worshiper aspires to enter the Divine Presence, hence he brings a tributary offering before his Lord. The model for this form of religious performance is the mitzvah of re'iyyah, performed on the three pilgrimage festivals. In Shemot 34:23 we are taught that the pilgrimage, the appearance (yera'eh... et penei) before Hashem is based on the fact that He is our Lord: ... et penei ha'adon (the lord) Hashem the God of Israel." In Devarim 16:16 we are instructed: "and you shall not encounter My presence (yera'u panai) empty-handed." Chazal learned from here the requirement of offering the olat re'iyyah, the obligatory olah offering that each pilgrim must bring when he enters the Beit Hamikdash to encounter his God. The voluntary olah may be seen as a spontaneous pursuit of the same goal: the Jew who aspires to enter the divine Presence, mindful of the awesome nature of this encounter, painfully aware that his human inadequacies render such an aspiration anomalous if not blasphemous, utilizes a tributary offering to achieve kappara. The kappara may be seen as cleansing the supplicant, as a protective screen between him and the awesome divine Presence, or as a ransom which stays the wrath which may be expected to ensue from human trespass into the realm of the divine. One way or the other, the purpose of the kappara is not to expiate a particular sin, but to facilitate the encounter of the worshiper with his Creator, Judge, and Redeemer.

 

We have seen in this shiur two models for understanding the connection between the end of Shemot and the beginning of Vayikra. According to the Ramban's model, the divine Presence achieved at the end of Shemot is volatile and easily lost, hence the need for sacrifices to ensure the continuity of the Shekhina. According to R. Hirsch and R. Hoffman, the divine Presence dwelling in the midst of the people beckons to each and every Israelite. The approach to this Presence is an awesome opportunity and responsibility, requiring sacrifices which give palpable expression to the paradox as well as the spiritual significance of this encounter.

 

 

Study Questions:

 

1. Rashi, at the beginning of his Torah commentary, brings the midrash of R. Yitzchak, who asks why the Torah began with Bereishit, rather than with the first mitzvah of the Torah (Shemot 12:1 etc.). What is the assumption regarding the nature of the Torah underlying this question, and how does it compare with the assumptions regarding the nature of the Torah reflected in the first section of our shiur?

 

a. R. Yitzchak answers that the Torah wants to justify the gift of the land of Canaan to the Israelites - does the underlying assumption behind the question still hold up? If not - how does the assumption underlying the answer compare with the assumption underlying the discussion in the shiur?

 

2. The Ramban to the beginning of Vayikra, in explaining the words "[He] called to Moshe", continues by comparing the situation at the beginning of Vayikra to the situation described in Shemot 24:16. Explain the similarity.

 

a. This similarity fits into Ramban's general understanding of the relationship between the revelation at Sinai and the Mishkan. What is this relationship?

 

3. Examine sacrifices mentioned in the book of Shemot, prior to construction of the Mishkan: 3:18 (5:1, 3; 8:22-23; 10:8-11, 24-25); Chapter 12; 18:12; 24:5-8). Do these sacrifices correspond to the understanding of Ramban or of R. Hoffman? Explain.

 

4. R. Hirsch complains that translations of the term korban into foreign languages, such as "sacrifice" are misleading. Why? Pay attention to the root meaning of the Hebrew term.

 

5. R. Hoffman, pp. 89-90 explains the kappara of the olah offering as follows: "The person bringing the offering aspires to come near to Hashem and the offering brought for the sake of coming near to Hashem, which ascends in fire, gives this aspiration concrete expression. Through this all the blemishes still adhering to the offerer are expiated..."

 

a. How does R. Hoffman's understanding of the relation between drawing near to Hashem and kappara compare with the understanding suggested in the shiur?

 

b. Does R. Hoffman's understanding hinge upon a particular interpretation of the concept kappara. If so - which?

 

c. R. Hoffman continues by noting the different suggestions for identifying the "blemish" for which the olah atones, and notes: "the olah comes primarily to atone for sins connected with neglect of performing mitzvot." Does this characterization apply equally to both of Chazal's suggestion? Does this characterization dovetail with R. Hoffman's own understanding of the kappara function of the olah?

 

d. A different way to characterize both Chazal's suggested understandings of the olah's kappara would be to say that the olah atones for the person, rather than for the iniquity. How would this fit into our different conceptualizations of the kappara function of olah?

 

6. How do sacrifices in general, and the olah sacrifice in particular, symbolize the idea of offering a tribute upon entering the divine Presence? Think, for example, of the following sacrificial performances: semikha (laying on of hands), sprinkling of blood, burning upon altar.

 

7. Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv Havoda, Chapter 1:

 

"Perhaps it will seem difficult to you, if avoda (service of God) is not for the benefit of Hashem, be He blessed, why then did He command this avoda to bring sacrifices to Him? This is no question, because even if this is not for Hashem's benefit, nonetheless when a person surrenders himself unto Hashem, or even if he does not render up his soul to Him, but only his property, by bringing a sacrifice, this is still considered surrendering himself to Hashem when he gives Him his property. This is called avoda, because a servant (eved) is the property of his master... he and his property all belong to his master... When he brings a sacrifice before Him, this shows that all belongs to Him, for there is no other and He, may He be blessed, is One."

 

Compare Maharal's approach to sacrifices with the approach suggested in the shiur.

 

 


 

To receive the parsha shiur every week, write to:

 

[email protected]

With the message:

 

Subscribe yhe-parsha <your name>

 


 

This shiur is provided courtesy of the Virtual Beit Midrash, the premier source of online courses on Torah and Judaism - 14 different courses on all levels, for all backgrounds.

Make Jewish learning part of your week on a regular basis - enroll in the
Virtual Beit Midrash

 


 

(c) Yeshivat Har Etzion1997 All rights reserved to Yeshivat Har Etzion

Yeshivat Har Etzion
Alon Shvut, Israel, 90433
[email protected]