The popular translation of "korban" as "sacrifice" may be misleading. "Sacrifice" implies giving up something for nothing in return. In truth, however, the "shoresh" (root) of the word 'korban' is k.r.v., "karov" - to come close. Not only is the animal brought 'closer' to the mizbayach, but the korban ultimately serves to bring the individual closer to God. The animal itself comprises merely the vehicle through which this process is facilitated.
Therefore, korbanot involve more than dry, technical rituals; they promote the primary purpose of the Mishkan - the enhancement of man's relationship with God.
In this week's shiur we attempt to better understand how korbanot help us achieve this purpose, by analyzing the internal structure of Parsha Vayikra and its location at the beginning of the sefer.
Introduction: An Outline
Sefer Vayikra begins with the laws of korbanot for a very simple reason. Recall that Sefer Shmot concluded with the construction of the Mishkan. Now that the 'equipment' has been set up, we are ready to go ahead and use it. Therefore, Sefer Vayikra could be considered an 'instruction manual' that explains how to use the Mishkan!
To help us appreciate the presentation of these laws, Board #1 charts the flow of parshiot within Parshat Vayikra.
[Note the key phrase repeated many times in this unit: "ishe ray'ach nichoach l'Hashem."] [Note the key phrase repeated numerous times in this unit: "v'chiper alav... v'nislach lo."]
Before we analyze this outline, take a minute to study it carefully. Try to follow the structure in a Tanach Koren and note how each 'parshia' corresponds to a line in our chart. Note also that an blue line in the outline marks the beginning of a new "dibur."
The Headers: Yachid - N'dava and Chova
We have titled our outline "Korban Yachid," for it details the various types of korbanot that an individual (="yachid") can bring. Our choice of this title reflects the opening sentence of the Parsha: "Adam ki yakriv... - any person who may bring a korban to God..." (see 1:2).
[In contrast to the Korban Yachid, the korbanot tzibur (brought by the congregation of Israel from the machatzit ha'shekel) do not appear in Parshat Vayikra; they are detailed in Emor and Pinchas.]
Note that our outline divides Parshat Vayikra into two distinct sections:
B) Chova (4:1-5:26): obligatory offerings, such as the chatat and asham, which the individual must bring, should he transgress certain mitzvot.
"Ishe rayach nichoach l'Hashem - an offering of fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord" (See 1:9,13,17; 2:2; 3:5,11,16)B) Chova -
N'dava: The Internal Order
If an individual wishes to offer a "korban n'dava," he must first choose the category of korban (olah, mincha, or shlamim) and then select the appropriate animal.
Should he choose an olah - which is totally consumed on the mizbayach - then he must choose from either cattle, sheep, or fowl. The Torah then proceeds to spell out the details of the procedure for the offering of each of these animals.
Should the individual choose a mincha - an offering made from flour - then he must select one of five different ways to bake the flour.
Should he choose a shlamim - a peace offering, part of which is consumed by the owners - then he must choose between cattle, sheep, or goats.
This Korban N'dava section also includes several other details regarding the procedure for offering the various korbanot. For example, before offering an olah or shlamim, the owner must perform the act of "smicha" (see 1:4, 3:2,8,13). By doing "smicha" - resting all his weight on the animal - the owner symbolically transfers his identity to the animal. That is to say, he offers the animal instead of himself (see Ramban).
[One could suggest that this concept of the korban as a replacement for the owner evolves from the olah that Avraham Avinu offered at the akeyda - a ram as an "olah tachat bno," in place of his son. See Breishit 22:13.]
This section also details the various procedures that follow "smicha," some which can be performed by the owner, others only by the Kohen. Although certain procedures cannot be performed by the owners, Parshat Vayikra includes them in this context since the kohen functions as "shaliach" (emissary) of the owner. Ideally, the owner should bring the korban himself. However, after Chet Ha'Egel, God realized that it would be too 'risky' for every individual to offer korbanot in the Mikdash. The Kohanim and Levi'im were therefore chosen to work in the Mikdash on behalf of the rest of the nation (see Devarim 10:8).
Chova: The Internal Order
In contrast to the 'voluntary' korban n'dava, an individual offers a korban chova only if he commits a transgression. Therefore, this section is organized by event, since the nature of the sin committed will determine which offering is required.
The specific animal brought for a chatat depends upon the personal status of the violator. If the Kohen Gadol (high priest) sins, he brings a bull. If the Nasi (political leader) sins, he brings a "se'ir" (male goat). A commoner brings a female goat (or lamb).
[There is also a special case of a mistaken halachik ruling by the 'elders' (i.e. the "sanhedrin" - the supreme halachik court), which results in the entire nation inadvertently sinning. In this case, the members of the "sanhedrin" must bring a special "chatat" offering. See 4:13-21.]
This first category of "korban chova," better known as "chatat kavua" (the fixed chatat - 4:1-35), atones for the transgression of "any of God's mitzvot" (see 4:2).
[Chazal (cited by Rashi) explain that this refers to the unintentional violation ("shogeg") of any prohibition punishable by "karet" when violated intentionally.]
The Torah then moves on to several instances of specific transgressions, detailed in chapter 5, that require either a "chatat oleh v'yored" or an "asham."
The korban "oleh v'yored" (5:1-13) is unique in that the type of korban brought depends entirely upon the individual's financial status. When one transgresses one of the prohibitions detailed in 5:1-4, then, if he is:
[These cases include accidental entry into the Mikdash while "tamey" (spiritually unclean - 5:2) and violating a promise made on oath ("shvuat bitui" - 5:4). Interestingly, this korban is categorized as a "chatat" (see 5:6,10,13), despite the Torah's reference to these acts as "asham" (see 5:5). The fact that this korban is the same animal as the regular "chatat" - i.e. a female goat or sheep - underscores this point. Note also where the new "dibur" begins (in 5:14 and not in 5:1)!]
The final cases mentioned require a korban asham:
One could suggest that Parshat Vayikra begins specifically with the "korban n'dava" since these korbanot in particular reflect the individual's aspiration to improve his relationship with God. Only afterward does the Torah detail the "korban chova," which amends that relationship should it be tainted by sin. Additionally, perhaps, the korban n'dava reflects a more ideal situation, while the obligatory sin-offering seeks to rectify a problematic situation.
We may, however, suggest an even more fundamental reason based on the "double theme" that we discussed in our study of the second half of Sefer Shmot. Recall from our previous shiurim that the Mishkan served a dual purpose:
[Note also that Chumash refers to the korban shlamim as a "zevach" (see 3:1 and 7:11). The word "zevach" itself is also used to describe a feast, generally in the context of an agreement between two parties. For example, Lavan and Yaakov conduct a "zevach" after they enter into a covenant ("brit") agreeing not to harm each other (see Breishit 31:44-54). Today, as well, agreements between two parties are often followed or accompanied by a lavish feast of sorts (e.g. state dinners, weddings, business mergers, etc.). Therefore, one could suggest that by offering a zevach shlamim an individual demonstrates his desire to partake in a joint ceremony with the Almighty.]
The korban olah likewise relates to Ma'amad Har Sinai. Recall the key phrase in the Torah's description of the korban olah: "ishe rayach nichoach l'Hashem." [See 1:9,13,17.] The Torah employs the exact same phrase in its presentation of the "olat tamid," the daily congregational offering, as inherently connected to Bnei Yisrael's offerings at Har Sinai:
"Olat tamid ha'asu'ya b'Har Sinai, l'ray'ach ni'choach ishe l'Hashem." (Bamidbar 28:6)In Parshat Tezaveh, when the Torah first introduces the olat tamid and summarizes its discussion of the Mishkan, we find the same phrase:
"... l'rayach nichoach ishe l'Hashem... olat tamid l'doroteichem petach Ohel Mo'ed..." (Shmot 29:41-42)Hence, by offering an olah or shlamim - the efficacious reminders of Ma'amad Har Sinai - the individual reaffirms the covenant of "na'aseh v'nishma" - the very basis of our relationship with God at Ma'amad Har Sinai.
[One could also suggest that these two types of korbanot reflect two different aspects of our relationship with God. The olah reflects "yirah" (fear of God), while the shlamim may represent "ahava" (love of God).]
Recall also that the last time Bnei Yisrael had offered olot and shlamim before Chet Ha'Egel was at Har Sinai. The Sh'china left Bnei Yisrael on account of the egel, thus precluding the possibility of offering korbanot. Now that the Mishkan is finally built and the Sh'china has returned, God's first message to Bnei Yisrael is that they can once again offer olot and shlamim, just as they did at Har Sinai.
This explains not only why korban n'dava occupies the first parsha in Parshat Vayikra, but why it must occupy the first parsha of Sefer Vayikra!
B) Korban Chova: Back to Chet Ha'Egel
In contrast to the 'refrain' of "ishe ray'ach nichoach" concluding each korban n'dava, we noted that each korban chova concludes with the phrase "v'chiper alav ha'Kohen... v'nislach lo." Once again, we find a parallel to the events at Har Sinai.
Recall our explanation that Aharon acted as he did at Chet Ha'Egel with the best of intentions; only the results were disastrous. With the Sh'china present, any transgression, even unintentional, can invoke immediate punishment (Shmot 23:20-22). Nevertheless, God's attributes of mercy, the essence of the "second luchot," allow man a 'second chance,' the opportunity to prove to God his sincerity and resolve to exercise greater caution in the future.
Before he ascends Har Sinai to seek repentance for Chet Ha'Egel, Moshe Rabbeinu tells the people:
"Atem chatatem chata'ah g'dolah... u'lai achaprah b'ad chatatchem." (Shmot 32:30; read also 32:31-33.)Later, when Moshe actually receives the thirteen "midot ha'rachamim" on Har Sinai along with the second "luchot" (34:1-9), he requests atonement for Chet Ha'Egel:
"... v'salachta l'avoneinu ul'chatateinu..." (34:9)This key phrase of the korban chova - "v'chiper alav... v'nislach lo" - may also relate to this precedent of God's capacity and willingness to forgive. The korban chova serves as a vehicle by which one can ask forgiveness for sins committed "b'shogeg" and beseech God to activate his "midot ha'rachamim."
Therefore, we may conclude that the korban n'dava highlights the Mishkan's function as the perpetuation of Ma'amad Har Sinai, while the korban chova underscores the Mishkan's role as means of atonement for Chet Ha'Egel.
Tefila K'neged Korbanot
Chazal consider "tefila" (prayer) as a 'substitute' for korbanot in the absence of the Bet HaMikdash. Like korbanot, tefila serves as a vehicle through which man can develop his relationship with God.
As such, what we have learned about korbanot has meaning even today. Individual tefila should embody both aspects of the "korban yachid": n'dava and chova. Tefila should primarily reflect one's aspiration to come closer to God. And secondly, if one has sinned, tefila becomes an avenue through which he can amend the tainted relationship.
Finally, tefila, just like the korbanot of the Mishkan, involves more than just the fulfillment of personal aspiration or obligation. Like the "midot ha'rachamim," tefila should be considered a unique privilege granted to God's special nation who accepted the Torah at Har Sinai. Tefila offers one the opportunity to come closer to God, an opportunity on which one ought to capitalize and of which one must take advantage.
For Further Iyun
A. Asham G'zeilot (a mini-shiur)
The last korban dealt with in the parsha, "korban asham," atones for three general categories of sins:
It would be hypocritical for one who sins intentionally against God to bring a korban. The "korban chova" is intended for a person who strives for closeness with God but has inadvertently sinned. The obligation to bring a korban teaches him to be more careful. Why should the Torah allow one who sins intentionally against God the opportunity to cover his guilt? The Mishkan is an environment where man develops spiritual perfection, not self-deception. Why, then, would the Torah provide for a korban "asham" in cases of inentional sin?
This group, known as an "asham g'zeilot," deals with a thief who falsely avows his innocence under oath. The Torah grants the thief-perjurer atonement through an "asham," but only after he first repays his victim with an added one-fifth penalty.
Why should a korban be necessary at all? The victim was repaid and even received a bonus. Why should God be involved?
The standard explanation is that the thief sinned against God by lying under oath. Although this is undoubtedly the primary reason for the necessity of a sacrifice, one question remains: why does he bring specifically an asham? All other instances of perjury require a "chatat oleh v'yored" (see 5:4)!
A textual parallel between this parsha and a previous one may provide the answer. The parsha of "asham g'zeilot" opens as follows:
"Nefesh ki techeta uma'alah ma'al b'Hashem v'kichesh b'amito..." (5:21)This pasuk defines the transgression against one's neighbor as "me'ilah b'Hashem" [taking away something that belongs to God]! This very same phrase described the first case - "asham me'ilot," unintentional embezzlement of "hekdesh" (Temple property - see 5:14-16):
"Nefesh ki tim'ol ma'al v'chat'ah b'shgaga..."This textual parallel points to an equation between these two types of "asham": unintentional theft of "hekdesh" and intentional theft of another person's property. [Note that both require the return of the principal and an added penalty of "chomesh"].
The Torah views stealing from a fellow man with the same severity as stealing from God! From this parallel, the Torah teaches us that unethical behavior towards one's neighbor taints one's relationship with God, as well.
B. Although "korban mincha" is not mentioned at Har Sinai, it may be considered a subset of the general "olah" category. Namely, the "mincha" may be the "korban olah" for the poor person who cannot afford to bring an animal. Note that the "olat ha'of" is connected to "korban mincha" by a 'parsha stumah.' The "olat ha'of," too, is a special provision for one who cannot afford a sheep.
C. The two basic levels of "kedushat korban" explain why the "olah" precedes the "shlamim" in the discussion in our parsha. The greater the portion offered on the altar, the higher the level of "kedusha," as shown in Board #3.
D. Leaving aside the difficulty in pinpointing the precise difference between sins requiring a "chatat" and those requiring an "asham," it seems clear that a korban "asham" comes to encourage a person to become more aware of his surroundings and actions. For example, if one is unsure whether or not he sinned, his korban ("asham ta'lui") is more expensive than the korban chatat required should he have sinned for certain. The Torah demands that one be constantly and acutely aware of his actions at all times, so as to avoid even accidental wrongdoing.
>>From email@example.com Sun Mar 29 15:36:17 1998
Subject: Re: PARSHAT VAYIKRA
The reason may lie in the fact that the layman may choose which animal to bring for his chatat - either a female goat ("se'irat izim") or a female lamb. Therefore, if he chooses the more expensive option - the goat - his offering bears some "n'dava" quality, thus warranting the description, "re'ach nichoach."
Another possible explanation (based on a Midrash whose source I don't remember) relates to another difference between a lamb and a goat: a lamb has a fat tail, which prevents one from identifying the animal's gender from afar. Therefore, one looking upon this korban from a distance might mistake it for an olah (which is always male, as opposed to the layman's chatat which must be female). A goat, by contrast, has a thin tail, thus allowing one to easily determine the animal's gender and hence its status as a chatat. Therefore, by bringing a goat rather than a lamb, the sinner in a sense broadcasts his sin and repentance. This perhaps renders the chatat a "ndava" of sorts, in that the sinner sacrifices his honor in order to demonstrate the principle of repentance ("l'lamed derech tshuva larabim").