Torah Weekly

For the week ending 24 March 2007 / 5 Nisan 5767

Parshat Vayikra

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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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 korban olah, a burnt offering. The animal is brought to the Mishkan's entrance. For cattle, the one 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 parteaten by the kohanim. Mixing leaven or honey into the offerings is prohibited. The peace offering, part of which is burnt on the altar and part is eaten, can be either 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.


Appropriate Oblomovitis

“…and throw the blood on the Altar…” (1:5)

Of the great battles of history, the struggle to get out of bed in the morning ranks with El Alamein and Gettysburg.

Many early-morning Napoleons have met their Waterloo when faced with the supreme effort of raising themselves from the torpor of slumber into the harsh light of day.

In 1858, the Russian writer Ivan Goncharov published the novel Oblomov . The eponymous central character famously fails to leave his bed for the first 150 pages of the novel, and Oblomov has become a Russian archetype of sloth and inertia.

On the other hand, we need no wake up call on the first day of our vacation. We spring out of bed with all the alacrity and enthusiasm of an athlete. Similarly, our self-sacrifice in being the first in the lunch queue or the opening morning of the spring sales is legion.

Once there was a certain scribe who went off to learn Torah in the Beit HaMidrash. While he was gone, someone came to buy a pair of tefillin from him. His children said that their father wasn’t home, and so the would-be buyer went and bought from someone else. When the scribe returned and found out what had happened he was furious that no one had come to fetch him from the Beit HaMidrash.

A few days later, the scribe was again learning in the Beit HaMidrash when a tax inspector came knocking at the door of his home. Remembering their father’s previous wrath, the children hastened to summon him to the house. His reaction when confronted with this unwelcome visitor needs no description.

“…and throw the blood on the Altar” (1:5)

In Judaism, we have “do mitzvot” and “don’t-do mitzvot”, and G-d has given us the character traits to accomplish both.

Every korban (offering) required that both the blood and the fat be placed on the altar. Blood represents alacrity, and thus it atones for running to do a “don’t-do”mitzvah — for example when we rush to say a juicy piece of gossip rather than tarry and avoid it.

Fat symbolizes lethargy, and it atones for indolence and non-performance of “do mitzvot” — when we wear the snooze button down on our alarm clock instead of getting out of bed to go to shul.

“Do mitzvot” require alacrity to begin and finish them. “Don’t-do mitzvot” need all the sluggardliness of a bed bug to keep us far from trouble.

Goodnight and Shabbat Shalom!

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