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Torah Sparks

March 16, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Leviticus 1:1-5:26; Hertz, p. 410; Etz Hayim, p. 585
Triennial Cycle I: Leviticus 1:1-2:16; Hertz, p. 410; Etz Hayim, p. 585
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23; Hertz, p. 424; Etz Hayim, p. 606

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(1:1-17) The laws regarding the olah, or burnt offering. The entire animal, except for the hide, was burned to ashes on the altar. The olah described here is brought by an individual as a voluntary offering to atone for neglect of positive commandments.

(2:1-16) The laws regarding the minhah, or meal offering. There were two types: communal meal-offerings brought on Passover, Shavuot, and Shabbat, and individual meal-offerings usually brought by people too poor to afford an animal or a fowl.

(3:1-17) The laws concerning the zevah sh'lamim, the peace-offering or "offering of well-being." Unlike the olah, which was completely consumed on the altar, the zevah sh'lamim was a sacred meal, shared by donors and kohanim.

(4:1-26) The laws regarding the hattat, or sin-offering. A hattat was given for sins one committed accidentally or unknowingly. (4:27-35) Similar sin-offerings, but for the individual.

(5:1-26) The asham, guilt-offering. This was given when one was uncertain whether one had offended, or in a case where someone had wronged another, denied his guilt, then later his conscience bothered him and he wanted to confess and make amends.

This Shabbat's Theme: "Restoring Temple Sacrifices?"

"When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.... He shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering....and the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord, and Aaron's sons, the priests (kohanim) shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar..the burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into sections... Its entrails and legs shall be washed with water, and the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord" (Lev. 1:2-9)

  1. Prayer is greater than all sacrifices. (Tanchuma, Vayera 31b)
  2. And Samuel said, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifice as in hearkening to the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, to hearken better than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. 15:22) [The same theme is found in Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21; Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20]
  3. In the law of sacrifices, it says, "If a man has a bullock, let him offer a bullock; if not, let him give a ram, or a lamb, or a pigeon; and if he cannot afford even pigeon, let him bring flour. And if he has not even an flour, let him bring nothing at all, but come with words of prayer. (Tanhuma, Buber, Tzav, 8, 9a)
  4. Maimonides (Rambam) considers sacrifices as a way to gradually wean the Israelites away from idol worship and as a concession to the customs of the times. (See Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Vayikra, World Zionist Org. p.16) Nachmonides (Ramban), however, writing on Leviticus 1:9, emphatically disagrees with Maimonides and rejects the theory that the sacrificial system was ordained merely as a concession to the times.
  5. It may be compared to a king's son who was addicted to carrion and forbidden meats. Said the King, "He shall always eat at my table and soon get out of the habit". (Vayikra Rabbah)
  6. Prayer is the means through which we sacrifice our selfishness and greed and get in touch with our powers for truth, mercy and love. (A.J. Heschel, Man's Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism, p.71)
  7. Holy thoughts and higher conceptual images therefore have all the efficacy of sacrifices, with all rites pertaining to them." (Abraham Isaac Kook, "The Lights of Penitence," Classics of Western Spirituality, p. 110)
  8. "Whoever sacrifices his evil impulse and confesses it, has honored God." (Sanhedrin, 43)
  9. In the reading of the Torah, those passages that relate to the sacrificial ritual should not be omitted. The Torah reading is designed to help the worshiper relive, in imagination, the past experience of his People... In the prayer part of the service, we should, of course, eliminate all prayers for the restoration of sacrifices, since we do not wish to see them restored. (Mordecai M. Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask: Reconstructionist Answers, pp. 242-3)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

As if the Jewish People don't have enough issues to fight about among themselves!

There is yet another contentious issue, that admittedly is a "back-burner" issue now but could possibly lead to a serious schism in the future? What will happen when, God willing, the Third Temple is restored in Jerusalem? Will there be sacrificial offerings as described in this week's Torah reading or not?

Here are how things stand now. The Reform and Reconstuctionist movements are opposed to reinstituting the sacrifices. Their synagogues unilaterally omit any reference to "sacrificial offerings" - past or present in their prayers. Orthodox worshipers, on the other hand, fervently pray for the restoration of the Temple service and its sacrificial offerings.

Where do we stand as Conservative Jews? Complete elimination of sacrifices? Instituting some sort of symbolic sacrificial ritual?

Perhaps, some broader questions might also be asked here. How do we feel about building a Holy Temple in Jerusalem again? Should the building of another Temple be attempted in the near future or should we hold to the belief that this can only be accomplished when the Mashiah comes?


Where in the Bible should a child begin studying?

In ancient times, the Jewish child began the study of Scripture with Leviticus. Why? "Because little children are pure and the sacrifices are pure, let those who are pure come and occupy themselves with pure things (Midrash).

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