Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Vayikra.

The Offered Beast

Why, if a person sinned and wished to make atonement, does he sacrifice an innocent animal? Why doesn’t he sacrifice himself, for example?

Indeed, in a certain respect he does. The Torah makes this very point in the verse that introduces the laws of korbanot:

A man who shall bring near of you an offering to G‑d, from the beast . . . you shall bring close your offering.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi points out that the verse does not say “A man of you who shall bring near an offering,” but “a man who shall bring near of you an offering”—the offering brought is “of you.” The sacrificed animal is a projection, in the extra-human sphere, of a process transpiring in the intra-human sphere. When a person brings an animal from his paddock as a gift to G‑d, the gesture is devoid of meaning unless he also offers the animal within himself.

The beast is there not just so that it should be suppressed or uprooted. “Much grain is produced with the might of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4); this is interpreted as a reference to the animal inside our hearts. An ox run amok will trample and destroy; but when dominated by a responsible human vision and harnessed to its plow, the beast’s vigor translates into “much grain”—a far richer crop than what human energy alone might produce.

The same is true of the beast in man. Nothing—not even the G‑dly soul’s keenest yearnings—can match the intensity and vigor with which the animal soul pursues its desires. Left to its own devices, the animal soul tends toward corrupt and destructive behavior; but the proper guidance and training can eliminate the negative expressions of these potent drives, and exploit them towards good and G‑dly ends.
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G‑dly Fire

Before G‑d communicated the laws of sacrifices to Moses, He called to him. Our rabbis explain that this calling was not directly associated with communicating a message. Instead, it was a sign of closeness and love. G‑d wanted to make a point of showing how dear the Jewish people are to Him.

In our relations with our fellow man, we should mirror these ways of G‑d. We should always attune ourselves to appreciating how every one of our colleagues “declares G‑d’s praise,” and should work with ourselves and our colleagues to accentuate and increase that praise.

The Torah reading itself focuses on the sacrifices offered in the Sanctuary in the desert, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew term for sacrifice is korban which has the root karov, meaning “close.” The sacrifices were a medium through which closeness and intimacy were established between G‑d and man, and in a larger sense, between Him and every aspect of the world at large.

On the altar was a burning G‑dly fire—flames that miraculously descended from heaven. This is paralleled by the G‑dly fire which each of us possesses within his heart. Offering an animal on that altar and having it consumed by this G‑dly fire parallels our efforts to add the fire of spirituality into our everyday material experience.
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Unintentional Sin

Among the sacrifices mentioned in this Torah reading is the conditional guilt-offering. A sin-offering is brought when one definitely knows that he has committed an inadvertent sin. A conditional guilt-offering, however, is brought when one is in doubt whether in fact he committed a transgression. Significantly, the conditional guilt-offering is many times more expensive than the sin-offering.

The reason a conditional guilt-offering costs more than a sin-offering was not merely to inspire sincere teshuvah, but also because a conditional guilt-offering must atone for a greater blemish.

In general, sacrifices atone for sins committed unintentionally, for even a commandment violated unknowingly requires atonement. Although the person did not intentionally sin, the fact that his unconscious thoughts led to such behavior is an indication that he is spiritually lacking. For if he was not lacking, he would not have sinned, even unintentionally, as it is written: “No evil shall befall the righteous.”

When a person knows he has committed a sin unwittingly, he realizes that he is in need of spiritual improvement; the transgression makes him aware of an inner involvement with evil. But when a person is not definitely aware that he has sinned, his positive self-image can remain intact, and he may not appreciate the need for change. This shows an even deeper connection with evil, for the person does not even realize something is amiss.

When a person knows he has unwittingly committed a transgression, his fundamental nature remains good; the deed runs contrary to his true self. For this reason, he is conscious that he has transgressed G‑d’s will. He senses the evil within his act, and realizes that this is not who he really is. When, however, a person does not realize that he has committed a transgression, this is a sign that the sin does not disturb him; it does not run contrary to his tendencies. For this reason, he does not even notice the sin. This is truly a severe internal blemish.

When a person does not know whether or not he has committed a sin, he must bring a conditional guilt-offering—a sacrifice which is much more expensive than a sin-offering. For the conditional guilt-offering must correct the deeper spiritual insensitivity that prevents him from being aware of his faults.
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Innate Will

The Torah portion of Vayikra discusses various types of korbanot, first relating the laws of voluntary offerings and then of obligatory offerings. Why does the Torah begin with freewill offerings? One would think that we should first be made aware of the laws regarding the korbanot that must be brought, and only then learn about the details of the voluntary offerings?

It is the spiritual thoughts harbored by the individual bringing an offering, rather than the offering itself, that are of primary importance.

Thus, our rabbis say about voluntary offerings: “With regard to the [large] burnt offering of cattle the verse states: ‘. . . a pleasing fragrance to G‑d.’ So too, with regard to the [puny] burnt offering of a bird, the verse states: ‘. . . a pleasing fragrance to G‑d’ . . . This teaches us that it matters not whether one gives a lot or a little—as long as one’s heart’s intent is for the sake of heaven.”

Since a person’s intent is so crucial to korbanot, the question arises: Why is it that the Torah seems to fail to mention it? The answer lies in the fact that the Torah begins the laws of korbanot with freewill offerings rather than—as one might expect—obligatory offerings. By doing so, it indicates that the most crucial aspect of all offerings is that they be offered from a genuine desire to come closer to G‑d—“his heart’s intent is for the sake of heaven.”

It can thus be said that all korbanot are to be considered freewill offerings, for at the crux of all offerings are the feelings of the individual bringing them. In fact, the intention required is found within each and every Jew, but when an individual brings a freewill offering, these latent desires are revealed for all to see. Thus, it is not necessary for the Torah to command this intent, for it is found in any case: bringing the offering will automatically reveal the Jew’s innate intention of drawing close to G‑d.
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Selfless Prayer

In the Holy Temple, a korban olah, a burnt offering, was brought twice daily, in the morning and at dusk. Our sages teach that while we are in exile, “the prayers were established in place of the daily offerings.” Korban, offering, shares the same Hebrew root as kiruv, closeness. The purpose of an offering is that through it we become closer to G‑d. True closeness to G‑d can be achieved when our prayers, like the burnt offering, are in order to connect with G‑d, not for personal gain: