The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), also known as Torat Kohanim — the Laws of the Priests — deals largely with the korbanot (offerings) brought in the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting). The first group of offerings is called a korban olah, a burnt-offering. The animal is brought to the Mishkan's entrance. For cattle, the person bringing the offering sets his hands on the animal. Afterwards, it is slaughtered, and the kohen sprinkles its blood on the Altar. The animal is skinned and cut into pieces. The pieces are arranged, washed and burned on the Altar.
A similar process is described involving burnt-offerings of other animals and birds. The various meal-offerings are described. Part of the meal-offering is burned on the Altar, and the remaining part is eaten by the kohanim. Mixing leaven or honey into the offerings is prohibited. The peace-offering, part of which is burned on the Altar and part eaten, can be from cattle, sheep or goats.
The Torah prohibits eating blood or chelev (certain fats in animals). The offerings that atone for inadvertent sins committed by the Kohen Gadol, by the entire community, by the Prince and by the average citizen, are detailed. Laws of the guilt-offering, which atones for certain verbal transgressions and for transgressing laws of ritual purity, are listed. The meal-offering for those who cannot afford the normal guilt-offering — the offering to atone for misusing sanctified property, laws of the "questionable guilt" offering, and offerings for dishonesty — are detailed.
An Insulting Ant
“He shall split it (the fowl) – with its feathers.” (1:17)
When people feel insulted they sometimes use extreme words to describe their insult: “They put a knife in my heart.”
Really? A word is no more than a puff of air with a feeble sound wave attached to it. And yet sometimes it feels like a knife in our heart.
How does a puff of air turn into a knife?
The answer is that it is the recipients of these insults who are the ones who turn the insulting words of others into a knife. Few things are as precious to us as our self-esteem. And yet for most of us, our sense of value comes from others. If other people ask our advice, we feel smart. If they seek our company, we feel likeable. If they criticize us, we feel demeaned. If they reject us, we worry that perhaps we are unworthy. Insulting words turn into knives because we allow those words to define us.
Imagine if one day an ant crawls across your car’s windshield, and as he passes you he turns his head and says: “Loser.” After you get over the shock of a talking ant, I don’t think this experience would make much of a dent in your self-esteem. Why would I let an ant define who I am?
But, nevertheless, humans can be deeply sensitive.
In this week’s public reading, the Torah mandates that an offering of a fowl should be burned together with all of its feathers, even though few things are as repugnant as the smell of burning feathers. Why should this be? Usually, an offering of fowl was brought by a poor person, someone who could not afford anything more. Better the odor of burning feathers than allowing the poor person to be embarrassed by the skinny, almost non-existent size of the bird without its feathers.
- Sources: Rashi and an idea from Mr. Michael Rothschild