The second half of the book of Exodus—whose reading we concluded last week—was taken up primarily with the details of the Sanctuary’s construction; in Exodus’ concluding verses we read how the Sanctuary was erected and the Divine Presence came to dwell in it. Thus the Sanctuary commenced its function as the “Tent of Meeting” between G‑d and man: the place that is the focus of man’s endeavor to serve his Creator, and where G‑d communicated to man and made His presence felt within a humanly constructed abode.
In the Parshah of Vayikra, which opens the book of Leviticus, G‑d speaks to Moses from the Tent of Meeting and begins His communication of the laws governing the bringing of the korbanot, the animal and meal offerings that are the central feature of the service performed in the Sanctuary.
And He called to Moses; and G‑d spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying:
The first korban to be described is the olah, the “ascending” offering (commonly referred to as the “burnt offering”), whose distinguishing feature is that it is raised to G‑d, in its entirety, by the fire atop the altar.
If his offering is an ascending offering of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting shall he bring it near, that he may be accepted in goodwill before G‑d.
He shall lean his hand upon the head of the offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
He shall slaughter the bullock before G‑d, and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring near the blood, and sprinkle the blood all around the altar that is by the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
He shall skin the offering, and cut it into its pieces.
The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and arrange the wood upon the fire. The priests, Aaron’s sons, shall arrange the parts, the head and the fat upon the wood that is on the fire atop the altar. Its innards and its legs he shall wash in water,
and the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, an ascending offering, a fire offering of a sweet savor to G‑d.
The olah can also be a male sheep or goat, in which case the same procedure is followed.
A turtledove or young pigeon can also be brought as an “ascending offering.” Instead of being slaughtered through shechitah (cutting of the throat), the bird is killed by melikah—nipping off the head from the back of the neck. The blood is applied to the wall of the altar, and the bird's crop and its adjoining feathers are removed and discarded; then the bird’s body is burned upon the altar.
A soul who shall offer a meal offering to G‑d . . .
Meal offerings, called menachot (“gifts”), are prepared of fine flour, with olive oil and frankincense. The priest removes a kometz (“handful”—actually the amount grasped by his three middle fingers), to be burned on the altar; the remainder is eaten by the priests.
There are five types of donated meal offerings: 1) the standard “meal offering,” brought as raw flour; 2) the “baked meal offering,” which came in two forms: loaves or 3) flat matzot; 4) the “pan-fried” meal offering; 5) the minchat marcheshet, deep-fried in a pot.
The following rule applies to all the meal offerings (including the “loaves”):
Another rule is that
Your every meal offering you shall season with salt; never shall you suspend the salt covenant of your G‑d.
This latter rule applies to all korbanot: “With all your offerings you shall offer salt.”
Another meal offering mentioned here is the minchat bikkurim (also called the “Omer”) brought on the second day of Passover from the year’s very first barley harvest. In this minchah, the kernels are roasted by fire before they are ground into flour.
(In addition, a meal offering accompanied all animal offerings.)
The Peace Offering
The shelamim, or “peace offering,” could be either male or female, and from either “the herd” (i.e., an ox or a cow) or “the flock” (a sheep or a goat).
Like the olah, its blood was sprinkled upon the altar; but unlike the olah, which “ascended” in its entirety upon the altar, the meat of the shelamim was eaten by the “owner”—the one who brought the offering (two portions of the animal, the breast and the right thigh, were eaten by the priests). Only certain parts of the animal were burned on the fire atop the altar:
The fat that covers the innards; all the fat that is upon the innards; the two kidneys and the fat that is on them, which is by the flanks; and the appendage of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys.
If the peace offering is a sheep, “the whole fat tail, up to the backbone” was added to these.
The priest shall burn it on the altar; it is [Divine] food, a fire-offering, a sweet savor to G‑d.
Because they are offered to G‑d on the altar, these specified veins of fat, which the Torah calls cheilev, are forbidden for consumption in all domestic animals: “It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your habitations: all cheilev and all blood you shall not eat.”
The Sin Offerings
The korbanot discussed up to this point are “donations”—offerings pledged out of a desire to give to G‑d. Now the Torah moves on to discuss obligatory offerings, such as the chatat, the “sin offering” brought to atone for an inadvertent transgression of the Divine will.
G‑d spoke to Moses, saying:
. . . If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of G‑d, and shall do one of the things that must not be done . . .
Different offerings are prescribed depending on the stature of the transgressor.
If the anointed [high] priest sins to the guilt of the people, he shall bring . . . a young bullock without blemish to G‑d.
A similar offering is also brought in the case where the entire community commits a transgression as a result of an erroneous ruling by the Sanhedrin (high court).
If the entire congregation of Israel shall sin through ignorance, and the thing be hidden from the eyes of the community, and they have done something against any of the commandments of G‑d concerning things which should not be done . . .
When the sin which they have sinned is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring it before the Tent of Meeting. The elders of the congregation shall lean their hands on the head of the bullock before G‑d . . .
Both the high priest’s sin offering and that of the congregation were distinguished in that each had to be a male bullock (the ordinary sin offering was a female sheep or goat); it had to be offered by the high priest; its blood was sprinkled “indoors”—inside the Sanctuary, on the golden altar and opposite the parochet; after the cheilev was burned on the altar, the rest of the animal was not eaten by the priests (as was the case with ordinary sin offerings), but rather “the skin of the bullock and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its innards and its dung—the whole bullock—he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place . . . and burn it on the wood with fire.”
A nassi (king) who commits an inadvertent transgression brings an offering similar to the standard sin offering, except that it must be a male goat.
Anyone else who sins inadvertently, brings
a kid of the goats . . . [or] a lamb . . . a female without blemish.
He shall lean his hand upon the head of the sin offering, and slaughter it for a sin offering in the place where they slaughter the burnt offering.
The priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and all the [remaining] blood he shall pour onto the foundation of the altar.
He shall remove its fat, as the fat is removed from . . . the peace offering; and the priest shall burn these upon the altar, upon the pyres of G‑d.
The priest shall thus make atonement for his sin that he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him.
With certain transgressions (such as failure to fulfill an oath to bear witness, or entering the Sanctuary in a state of ritual impurity), the sin offering brought depended on the financial ability of the transgressor. One who could not afford a female sheep or goat brought two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one bird to be brought as an “ascending offering” and the second bird as a sin offering. A person of even lesser means, who could not even afford two birds, brought a meal offering: “he shall put no oil upon it, nor shall he put any frankincense upon it, for it is a sin offering.”
For certain transgressions, the offering brought in atonement is not a “sin offering” but an asham (“guilt offering”). An asham is distinguished from the standard sin offering in that it was a male sheep, and that it had to be worth at least “two shekels of silver of the shekel of the Sanctuary.”
Three types of asham are described in our Parshah. The first is brought by one who unintentionally made unauthorized use of property belonging to the Sanctuary—a crime called me’ilah (“betrayal”). He must pay back what he had expropriated, adding to that an additional one-fifth of its value, and also bring an asham to obtain atonement for his unintentional trespass.
A second type of “guilt offering” is the asham talui, brought by one who thinks he may have unwittingly committed a transgression, but is not sure. (For example, he had two pieces of meat before him and ate one of them; later, he discovers that one of them was cheilev—forbidden fat—a trespass which would obligate him to bring a sin offering if he would know with certainty that he committed it.)
The third and last asham of our Parshah is the one brought in atonement by one who swears falsely in the process of defrauding his fellow man:
If a person sins and commits a betrayal against G‑d, and lies to his fellow regarding that which was delivered him to keep, or in a loan, or in a thing taken away by violence, or withholding payment; or he found a lost object and has lied concerning it; if he swears falsely in any of all these that a man does, sinning in that . . .
He shall restore the principal, and shall add a fifth more to it, and give it to the one to whom it belongs, on the day of his [atonement of his] guilt.
He shall bring his guilt offering to G‑d—a ram without blemish out of the flock, according to the value of a guilt offering—to the priest.
The priest shall make atonement for him before G‑d, and it shall be forgiven him for anything of all that he has done by which to incur guilt.