Summary: The Book of Leviticus spans the few weeks in which Bnei Yisrael were encamped at the base of Mt Sinai learning from Moshe that which G-d commanded him atop the mountain. It was the time period of inaugurating the Mishkan, before they began their journey in the wilderness.
As third of the 5 Books of Moses, Leviticus comprises the well-known codes for Jewish behaviour – Kashrut, Family Purity, Shabbat and Festivals. The book focuses on behaviour that enabled Bnei Yisrael to remain in a state of ritual purity and become a Sanctified Nation. This ultimately included laws aimed at Divine as well as social justice, intended as part of their life in the Land of Canaan.
Parshat VaYikra is the 1st in the Book of Leviticus comprising Chapters 1:1-5:26. It outlines the specific laws and rituals related to the Mishkan and to living within close proximity of the Divine Presence. These first chapters describe mandatory and voluntary sacrificial offerings making-up the daily service.
It opens with a description of the sacrificial and blood service for the Olah (Burnt) offering and continues with the Minha (Meal), Shelamim (Peace), Hatat (Sin), Asham (Guilt) and Me’ilah (Trespass) offerings.
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Comment: In his weekly Parsha commentary, Dr Naftali Lowenthal draws an analogy between the electricity circuit board in a home – which provides all of the power to heating, lighting and electrifying the premises – with the Mishkan. Just as a house needs a stepped-down source of power to serve the needs of all its occupants, so does our world need an energy connection with the Divine.
Equally, when our home power system is damaged, we fail to achieve optimum and uniform benefit throughout the building. For the Jewish people, whose Temple was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago, it should come as no surprise that our world and the way we live is fraught with imperfections.
Rabbi David Fohrman suggests that the 3-tier sacrificial service in Parshat VaYikra teaches us that to restore a broken relationship requires basic recognition of our transgression and an attempt to set it right. At the very bottom of the frame is the Hatat or Sin offering, none of which is given to the donor. It’s meant to rectify a sense of betrayal and disrespect through acknowledging restrictions and resetting the boundaries of proper behaviour.
The next level is the Shelamim or Peace offering which is partially consumed by its donor and partially offered on the Altar, showing an attempt to restore reciprocity in our relationship with G-d. As in a marriage, mutual engagement between parties helps build love and affection.
Finally, at the top of the hierarchy is the Olah or Burnt offering. Wholly consumed on the Altar, with nothing going to either the donor or the priest, it makes us aware of the Awe with which we as created beings must relate to G-d.
Tragically, without a Temple or equivalent mode of worship, one is left to anticipate a further breakdown of relationships in the wider world around us. While employing the ideas behind these three steps could perhaps offer a formula for drawing us closer to the Almighty and to each other.