Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Vayikra - Yayikra (Leviticus) 1-6:7. (Hebrew Scriptures 1-5:26)

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Vayikra – Vayikra (Leviticus) 1 – 6:7
(Hebrew Scriptures 1-5:26)

This week's Parasha shares its name with the Book's title (Leviticus), which means "And He called." Our opening verse…"And He called to Moses and YHVH spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying…" (literal translation), is a very swift and dramatic transition from the end of Sh'mot, where the Tent of Meeting was just in the process of being constructed. Evidently, as soon as the tent is set up, YHVH speaks to Moshe "out of" the tent. "Any man, if he brings an offering of you…" starts the long and detailed discourse on the sacrifices. It is quite significant that ‘the laws of the sacrifices’ begin with the word 'man', “to teach that man is the subject and not the object of the sacrifice”, says Seforno and continues elaborating thusly: "If he brings an offering of you," that is, from your very selves, with a confession and with due submission, in the spirit of the Psalmist's, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (51:19), for the foolish who offers sacrifices without proper humility will find no acceptance".[1] "Brings," rooted in "k.r.v" (kof, resh, vav), which we have already encountered in Parashat Tetzaveh (Ex. 29:1-3), means to “bring near" and shares the same root as "korban," that is, "an offering" or a "sacrifice." Thus, it is immediately clear that the purpose of the offerings is to draw the worshipper near or close to YHVH.

The first type of offering presented here is the "olah," the burnt offering, which noun originates with the root a.l.h (ayin, lamed, hey), forming the verb “aloh,” meaning to “go up or ascend"; or in a different conjugation, to “raise, elevate, or lift up." Thus, the burnt offering is that which is lifted up to YHVH. The animal is to be “tamim” - "whole, perfect, or faultless." Noach, who "walked with Elohim"was declared "tamim" in his generation (Gen. 6:9); Avraham was told by YHVH, "walk before Me and be tamim" (Gen. 17:1). In Parashat Tetzaveh (Ex. 28:30) we examined the Oorim and Toomim, that were to be carried "before YHVH", noting again that the meaning of "Toomim" is "perfect." Thus, that which is to be brought before YHVH (or anyone who walks with or before Him) is to be "perfect" or "whole" (according to His stipulations). That which was to be "lifted up" (the olah - the burnt offering, along with the peace offering, sin offering and the guilt offering) had to be, therefore, in that state or condition.

This "korban tamim" was to be brought to the door of the Tent of Meeting, "that he may be accepted - lir'tzono - before YHVH" (v. 3 italics added). The question arises here, 'who is being accepted?' Is it the sacrifice, or is it the one making the sacrifice? The answer offered by Prof. Nehama Leibowitz is as follows: "Accepted does not refer to the offering but to the offerer. Acceptance is not an automatic result of the sacrifice; it alludes to the intention that prompts the offering and the spirit in which it is brought. God's will is not swayed by the offering, and He is not thereby "forced" to draw nearer to man. Rather, the offering expresses man's desire to purify himself and come closer to his Creator."[2] As we can see, "bringing up" (offering) the "korban" marks the process of reform or internal change, and is expressed by an outward action. "Acceptance" is also denoted by an external act of the offerer's hand, as it lays on the offering itself (1:4). In Parashat Tetzaveh (Ex. 29:10) we noted the purpose for the "laying of the hands" ( of the root to “lean") as, "an identification with the korban which is about to give up its life, denoting ultimate submission."

After the animal is slaughtered, its blood sprinkled, its skin removed and its body parts arranged on the wood, the priest was to wash its "entrails and legs." In Hebrew the entrail is called "kerev," and the legs, "kra'a’yim." The "kerev" (or "k'rava’yim" in plural) is the "inward parts." We have already seen that the noun and verb for "offering" and "to offer," respectively, are of the root k.r.v, meaning "near or close," as are the "inward parts" too, all of which appear to symbolize the "drawing near" to YHVH on the part of the offerer who himself undergoes a genuine inward change. The "legs" here are, as mentioned, "k'ra'ayim," which is of the root k.r.a (kaf, resh, ayin), meaning to “kneel or crouch,” and is the word used for the two front bending legs of the animal, thus creating an allusion to the required attitude of submission and humility.

When all is cut up properly, washed and burnt up by the fire, it produces "a sweet savor to YHVH" (v. 13). A smell of any kind is always a harbinger. This aroma, therefore, symbolizes the change that has taken place within the person who has put his confidence in YHVH (by relying and leaning on Him), and who has humbly drawn near Him. The smell’s “soothing aroma” is “rey’ach ni’cho’ach.” The latter stems from the root (noon, vav, chet) that we encountered in Parashat Noach (Gen. 6:9 – 11:32), where we learnt that it is the root for “rest” and connected to the protagonist’s name – Noach – who himself brought an offering – an “olah” – which in B’resheet (Genesis) 8:21 is said to have sent off a “soothing aroma.”. It follows, then, that the aroma is indicative of the fact that an issue has been settled and brought to rest. In Romans 12:1 we are told “to present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to Elohim.” And it is only natural, therefore that 2 Corinthians 2:15 adds that “we are to Elohim a sweet savor of Messiah,” if we have indeed offered up ourselves.

The next offering is the meal offering, "mincha," which is thought to be of the root m.n.h (mem, noon, hey), meaning "a gift or a tribute"[3]. Ka’yin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel) both brought a "mincha" to YHVH (Gen. 4:3,4). This type of offering, as it is presented here, is made up of variable mixtures of grain, oil, frankincense and more, and is baked or fried without leaven or honey, although there are somewhat different stipulations required when it is offered as a first fruit (ref. 2:14-16). "A soul, if it should offer…" (2:1) is the introductory phrase to the "mincha" regulations, as well as to the sin offering and guilt offering. The term "soul" (“nefesh”) rather than "a man," which was used regarding the burnt offering, may point to the place from where the person's true intents issue forth. This is particularly appropriate in the case of the “mincha,” as it was the only offering that all could afford, including the poor.

Following the "mincha" is the "peace offering", "zeva'ch sh'lamim." The word used here for offering is no longer "korban," but "zeva'ch," which is "slaughter for sacrifice." Our Patriarch Ya’acov is seen offering a “zeva’ch” when he and Lavan (Laban) were reconciled (Gen. 31:54). "Shlamim" is of the root sh.l.m (shin, lamed, mem), meaning "whole, complete, or full,” being also the root meaning of "shalom" – “peace” - from which the word for "payment" is derived. Thus, when He cried out "it is finished," Yeshua the Perfect ‘Ze'vach, who paid the full and necessary price, such that we may have peace with YHVH, summarized His tremendous undertaking in one word.

Next is the sin offering, which denotes a korban offered for sins committed inadvertently - "korban chatat." Chatat is of the root ch.t.a (chet, tet, alef), “chet”, and primarily means to “miss a goal or a mark." But as is often the case in Hebrew, the same root can apply to another word - opposite in meaning - creating one of the language's characteristics of dynamic tension and paradox. Thus, the root ch.t.a, used in a different conjugation, also forms a verb which means to “cleanse or purify" (e.g. Lev. 14:49; 52; Num.19: 12, 13 etc.). Hence, the cure is contained within the very affliction itself. Prof. Nechama Leibowitz points out that in the case of this type of "missing the mark," as is presented here, "the offerings imposed on the leaders of the people involve a greater burden than those required of the ordinary people"[4]. Let us examine some of the relevant verses: "If the anointed priest shall sin so as to bring guilt on the people" (4:3 emphasis added), as compared to 4:13: "And if the whole congregation of Israel shall err" (emphasis added), and compared again to: "When a ruler sins… and is guilty" (4:22 emphases added). The usage of the various terms here, as they relate to the respective parties speak for themselves.

In dealing with the sin offering, a singular new term is introduced - confession. The first 13 verses of chapter 5 enumerate the various offenses which, aside from incurring the need for a sacrifice, also require a confession (ref. vs. 5) - "vidu'y", of the root y.d.a (yod, dalet, hey). "Yada" stems from "yad" – “hand” - and its basic meaning therefore is to “cast or throw." Many times it is used in connection with casting stones. However, it is also the root for "thanksgiving" and "praise" (and hence the name Yehuda). Just as the word for "teaching" (from which we get the noun “Torah”) stems from the act of "shooting" (an arrow), so do these terms of “thanking, praising and confessing,” issue forth from a root denoting activity. It is no wonder that the hand is symbolic of all of these expressions, as it is able to stretch forth and reach further than any other part of the human body - thus rendering it an instrument of communication. This root and its derivatives shed light on the society which made use of them, demonstrating the fact that it was very vibrant and communicative, where attitudes were expressed vividly.

Lastly, the Parasha deals with "guilt offerings," which were also to be offered upon sins being committed inadvertently. But in this case, before making the sacrifice, reparations had to be paid (5:14-6:7). By the same token Yeshua says…" if you offer your gift on the altar, and remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go. First, be reconciled to your brother [compensate him for what your behavior has caused him to suffer or lose], and then come, offer your gift" (Mat. 8:23,24). “Committing a trespass” is the term used for this individual, and in Hebrew “tim’ol ma’al”. Interestingly, “ma’al” which speaks of “unfaithfulness and treachery,” is very similar to “m’eel” which, according to B.D.B. is an “outer garment,” especially worn by high ranking personages, such as the priests.[5] This is much like “ba’god,” whose meaning is identical to “ma’al”, and “begged,” which is, again, an “outer garment.” Do these connections of disloyalty to articles of clothing suggest the proverbial nakedness of the unfaithful individual, and at the same time infer that a person of any rank is susceptible to such acts (as chapter 4 points out)?

In all of the last three types of offerings, we observe faultless ("tamim") animal sacrifices. There is no mention of laying hands on the animals in the course of performing the "guilt offering"; but it exists in the cases of both the peace and sin offerings. In all cases (except the meal offering), blood is involved…" for it is the blood which makes atonement for the soul" (Lev. 17:11).

It is interesting to note that only animals fit for consumption are offered up to YHVH. Therefore, in those instances where the offerer may partake of the sacrifice, together with the priest, they are partaking of YHVH's table.

Finally, in chapter 2:13, in the passage dealing with the "meal offering," we read: "And every offering of your food offering you shall season with salt, and you shall not let the salt of the covenant of your Elohim be lacking from your food offering; you shall offer salt with all your offerings." Yeshua makes a reference to this perpetual salt covenant in Mark 9:49-50…" For everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice will be salted with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt becomes saltless, by what will you season? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another." Thus, being who we are in Yeshua, we are a salted sacrifice burnt by fire unto the peace (completeness, fullness) which He made "by the blood of His cross" (Col. 1:20), sealing the Covenant for all eternity.

[1] New Studies in Vayikra Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department
for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
2 Ibid
3 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.
4 New Studies in Vayikra Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library,
Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
5 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers,
Peabody, Mass. 1979