Vayikra - Partners in Torah


Parsha Perspectives

  • The Anonymous Craftsmen


    …ויקרא אל משה

    “And G-d called to Moses” (Vayikra 1:1).

    If you drive by a construction site, you can’t help but notice that it looks more like an advertising billboard than a work in progress.  Company A is doing the actual building, while Company B is the architect.  Every window proclaims that it is the product of Company C, and every beam, every fixture calls out the name of its manufacturer.  While all this self-advertising may not create the most attractive view, we can certainly understand why the companies involved want to advertise their services.

    Imagine, then, if a construction company is contracted to build a beautiful palace.  Upon completion, the king is taken on a grand tour. He is thrilled with the magnificent architecture, the enormous rooms, the grand stairways, the impressive columns — until he looks more closely and notices that every beam, every fixture, bears the name of the individual who created that particular item.  The king would be greatly disappointed that his royal palace was being used as a P.R. campaign.  It would be safe to assume that he would be so angry with the builder that he would never want to see him again!

    The Ktav Sofer tells us that when G-d told Moses to build the Tabernacle (Mishkan), He gave very specific instructions as to how to build it, down to precise dimensions and exact locations of the items therein, all to create a dwelling place for G-d’s presence in this world.

    Such a work of art would be the perfect way for the craftsmen to proclaim their expertise!  Everyone would know that Mrs. Seamstress sews the most even stitches in the world, and Mr. Carpenter builds the sturdiest furniture ever created.  And yet, not only were there no logos adorning each piece in the Tabernacle, the Torah doesn’t even tell us who made what!  The building of the Tabernacle was not meant to bring glory to the builders, but to the One for Whom it was built.  Every inch of wood, every yard of fabric used in the building of the Tabernacle had G-d’s name stamped on it, so that every beam and nail was clearly intended towards serving G-d.  In so doing, Moses taught us that to build a sanctuary for G-d, we must have him in mind from the very beginning, and carry that through.

    The Medrash teaches us that once G-d saw that Moses fulfilled His instructions to the letter, He summoned him into the Tabernacle, to join Him there in His holy place.

    We build many edifices. It is clear that our synagogues must be built with G-d in mind — and so, too, should our homes!  Our homes serve as our own, small sanctuaries.  When we design the service of G-d into the foundations, we invite Him to join us there and make it, too, into a holy place.

  • The Small Aleph


    …ויקרא אל משה וידבר ה’ אליו מאהל מועד לאמר: דבר אל בני ישראל

    He called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel… (Vayikra 1:1-2)

    Rashi’s commentary on the first verse of Vayikra notes that G-d first “called to Moses” (vayikra ) before “He spoke to him.” Rashi explains that the expression of “calling” Moses is indicative of the special affection G-d had for him; that He, so to speak, planned the discussion.  Rashi contrasts this with the way G-d interacted with the prophets of the nations (Balaam).  In speaking with Balaam for example, the Torah uses the term “vayikar” (without the final aleph), meaning that G-d “happened upon” Balaam.  As Rashi there (Bamidbar 23:4) explains, this expression is indicative of a temporary connection.

    When it came to transcribing the Torah, Moses actually wanted to use the more casual “va-yikar” to describe his conversation with G-d.   As explained by Ba’al Haturim, Moses humbly preferred to equate his prophecy with that of Balaam.   G-d, however, insisted that his prophecy was qualitatively different than that of Balaam and instructed Moses to include the aleph.  In the end, Moses had to follow the directive, but wrote the letter aleph in small print, a tradition that can be seen in Torah scrolls down to this day.

    This Medrash raises two fundamental questions: First, Balaam was a notorious enemy of the Jews. Humility aside, how could Moses possibly believe his prophecy was no better than Balaam’s?   Second, once G-d told Moses to include the aleph, why did he take the step of making it smaller?

    The Kli Yakar commentary sheds light on these questions by pointing out the difference, in terms of prophecy, between the word Vayikar and Vayikra (“Happened” vs. “Called”).  Vayikra indicates a higher level of prophecy, something beyond the prophet’s personal spiritual stature.  Vayikar is a lower level of prophecy, more directly related to the prophet’s true status.  This helps explain why Moses wanted to use the same term as that used to describe G-d’s communication with Balaam.  Clearly, Moses was aware of Balaam’s evil nature and never intended to denigrate himself by comparing himself to Balaam.  Nevertheless, Moses believed that the prophecy he experienced was far beyond what he deserved based on his own personal merit.

    By telling Moses to include the aleph – a letter, but also a word that means “teach,” G-d was imparting a fundamental lesson to Moses.  Yes, G-d’s interaction with Moses was greater than his actual level – but Moses was not prophesying only for himself.  He was G-d’s emissary to the Jewish people, and as such, G-d’s interaction with him matched the spiritual level of the Jewish people as a whole.

    By writing a small aleph, Moses was also teaching the Jewish people a fundamental lesson: Whenever we work on behalf of the Jewish people, G-d indeed raises us above our natural limitations.   At the same time, we must remember, “It’s not about me.”

  • Investing in the Future


    וכל קרבן מנחתך במלח תמלח ולא תשבית מלח ברית אלהיך מעל מנחתך על כל קרבנך תקריב מלח

    “You shall salt every meal-offering; you may not discontinue the salt of your G-d’s covenant from upon your meal offering – on your every offering you shall offer salt.” (Vayikra 2:13)

    What significance is there to salt that it must be used with every sacrifice?  Rashi quotes a famous teaching of our Sages: “A covenant was made with salt from the six days of creation.  The ‘lower waters’ were promised that they would be offered on the Altar.”

    The Medrash explains that when G-d originally created the upper (heavenly) waters and the lower waters (ex. seas and oceans), the lower waters complained about being in the corporeal world and thus inferior to the more lofty celestial bodies of water.  They were consoled once they heard that they (sea water) would be the source of salt, a primary staple of the offerings brought on the Temple altar.

    While a full understanding of this Medrash may be beyond our grasp, it seems fair to ask how containing salt was any real consolation, considering that it would first be utilized only some 2,000 years later, along with the Temple offerings.

    There is yet another puzzling idea associated with salt: the custom to place salt on one’s table during a meal in which bread is served.  The Medrash cited in Tosafot (Berachot 40a) enigmatically explains that the salt serves to protect us from Satan’s attempt to take advantage of the idle time between netilat yadayim (the hand-washing before eating bread) and the Hamotzi blessing.  We are vulnerable on some level to Satan’s designs during this “idle time” because we are not involved in any mitzvot.  But how does having salt on the table shield us from the scheming Satan?

    In his magnificent compilation of Torah essays entitled Shaarei Orah, Rabbi Meir Tzvi Bergman explains that the covenant of salt represents the idea that a dependable future development is as good as if it is happening in the present.  While the salt that would accompany future offerings was a long way off, G-d’s commitment to that future development thoroughly assuaged the lower waters’ sense of inferiority already from the moment the promise was made.  Salt on our table similarly symbolizes that while we are not currently involved in performing mitzvot, the fact that we will soon recite a blessing is as if we’re already involved  in that mitzvah.

    The Talmud (Bava Basra 11a) illustrates this idea with the story of King Munbaz who used all the money in his treasury, along with his inherited wealth to feed the poor during two years of famine. When his family complained that he had squandered their personal wealth, he explained that his father had accumulated wealth in this world, while he accumulated spiritual wealth in Heaven (through the giving of charity).  His father had left their wealth where it could be stolen while he arranged for his to be in a place that is out of reach.

    King Munbaz recognized that although one must wait for the World-to-Come to realize the full benefits of our positive actions in this world, that future development gives value to the present.

    The story is told about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein who upon moving to a new residence said, “I thank G-d that I have moved.”  His companion asked, “Is the Rabbi’s new apartment that much better than his previous one?”  Rabbi Feinstein replied, “Oh, no! An apartment is an apartment – the advantages of one over another are insignificant.  I am happy, though, that I will now have a longer walk to yeshiva than before, because the more I invest in mitzvot in this world, the better my lot in the next world.

    Both Rabbi Feinstein and King Munbaz displayed a similar long term perspective.  Salt, the symbol of a promising future reminds us that more importantly than focusing on the present, “idle time” or mundane actions can be used as stepping stones for a glorious future.

    We would do well to learn from this lesson and judiciously occupy our time with activities whose significance is judged not by short-term gratification but by its long term, lasting value.

  • The Ultimate Sacrifice


    וכל קרבן מנחתך במלח תמלח ולא תשבית מלח ברית אלהיך מעל מנחתך על כל קרבנך תקריב מלח

    “You shall salt all your meal-offerings with salt and you shall not omit salt, the covenant of your G-d, from being placed upon your meal-offerings. You shall bring salt on every one of your offerings” (Vayikra 2:13).

    A common denominator between the various offerings brought in the Tabernacle is that they all had salt placed on them.  The Medrash says this was a result of a grievance during the creation of the world.  On the second day, G-d split the lower waters (the waters on earth) from the upper waters (the atmospheric water).  The lower waters were unhappy to be far from G-d and complained that they wanted to be closer to Him.  G-d consoled them by telling them that salt, which is taken from the sea, would be placed upon all the offerings, and that water would be poured on the Altar during the holiday of Sukkot.

    Why, then, do we put salt on the offerings rather than sea water, since it was the sea water that desired to be closer to G-d?  Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky answers that water elevates itself and joins the upper waters simply by evaporating.  What’s left behind is salt, which does not naturally ascend on its own. To place salt on the offerings means we should offer up the parts of ourselves that are not naturally inclined toward elevation, the qualities that we consider residue.  When we can elevate the part of us that is least inclined to grow, that is the ultimate offering.

    An elderly man was becoming more involved in Judaism and began slowly transforming.  Talmud study was one area that seemed beyond his grasp.  He confided to his son that he felt a strong desire to overcome this.  His son arranged for him to go every Sunday to a yeshivah where students took turns learning with him.  For years he studied with the students, often struggling with a single paragraph for an hour or more.  But slowly he began to understand. After four years, he finally finished one complete page (double-sided) of Talmud, with all the translation, commentary, and details.

    Excited, he went to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein for a verbal exam.  He aced the test, and Rabbi Feinstein insisted the yeshivah students make a festive meal celebrating this milestone.  At the meal, Rabbi Feinstein spoke about how a person can acquire their place in the World to Come with just one page when learned with the sacrifice this man demonstrated.  When the man himself got up to speak, he emotionally thanked the students for patiently learning with him for so long and shared that he’d always been so afraid to die, worried he hadn’t yet fulfilled his potential.  Now he could live in peace knowing he had conquered his biggest obstacle.  Three days later, he passed away, having elevated the weaker areas within that many people mistakenly leave behind.

    When we flex the muscles that we are least inclined to exercise, when we take on and succeed in opportunities that seem beyond our reach, we not only get credit for reaching the goal, we retain a lasting residue of that hard work.

  • Only the Best


    והקטירם הכהן המזבחה לחם אשה לריח ניחח כל חלב ליהוה

    “The Kohen shall cause them to go up in smoke on the Altar, the food of the fire for a satisfying aroma, all the choice parts of Hashem.” (Vayikra 3:16)

    Last week we ended the book of Shemot, which revolved around the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the construction of the Tabernacle.  This week, we begin the book of Vayikra, which deals largely with the laws pertaining to the Tabernacle and the Kohanim (Priests) who served therein.

    Parshat Vayikra introduces us to a number of the various Korbanot (sacrifices) which were offered in the Tabernacle and their pertinent laws.  One of the sacrifices is the Korban Shelamim (Peace-Offering). In discussing the laws of a goat which is brought as a Peace Offering, the Torah requires the Kohen to burn all of its choicest parts on the Altar in the Tabernacle.

    Interestingly, Maimonides writes that this requirement wasn’t specific to the Korban Shelamim.  He derives from our verse that for the performance of every mitzvah – from the selection of which animal to offer as a sacrifice, to the food and clothing donated to the poor – a person should use his finest possessions.  Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai Alter (1866-1948), known as the Imrei Emet, served as the Rebbe (leader) of the Gerrer Chassidim.  He was once approached by one of his followers, who lamented that he had lost his tefillin.  As tefillin are quite expensive, the man was also worried that it would take him quite some time to save up the money to purchase a new pair.  Much to this man’s relief, Rabbi Alter immediately took out a pair of tefillin to loan to the man until he was able to locate his lost tefillin or buy a new set.  After giving them to the man, Rabbi Alter asked him to take extra precaution in protecting them.  He explained that he had inherited this pair of tefillin from his saintly father, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter, who was known as the S’fat Emet and had served as the previous Gerrer Rebbe.  After he left, ecstatic about the change in his fortune and his merit to use the tefillin of the S’fat Emet, one of the close disciples of the Imrei Emes asked him why he was willing to part with such an irreplaceable and holy family heirloom when he could have easily attained a simple set of kosher tefillin.  Rabbi Alter responded by quoting the words of Maimonides, who teaches that we must be willing to give up our most precious possessions for the sake of G-d’s mitzvot.

    After studying the inspiring stories of our forefathers in the book of Bereishit and of their salvation from Egypt in the book of Shemot, many people find it difficult to relate to the esoteric subjects discussed in the book of Vayikra.  Although Maimonides rules that this concept of using our choicest possessions applies to all mitzvot, perhaps one of the reasons it is taught in reference to the Peace Offering is to remind us that these sections of the Torah can be equally applicable to our daily lives. Just as we wear our nicest clothing to a wedding and set the table with our finest china when hosting important guests, so too does the Torah teach us that this approach should carry over to matters of the soul, as we proudly use our most precious possessions to serve G-d and do His mitzvot.

Table Talk

For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table

Rashi writes (Vayikra 1:1) that when G-d spoke to Moses in the Tabernacle, He spoke in His customarily powerful voice.  As Rashi writes that only Moses was capable of hearing this voice, what was the purpose of speaking in such a strong voice? (Darash Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein)


The Torah (Vayikra 1:16) says that if one’s offering to G-d is a dove, “… he shall remove its crop with its feathers”.  The Medrash (Medrash Rabba 3:4) says that G-d commanded us to remove the dove’s crop and feathers before bringing it as an offering because it eats stolen goods, i.e. from people’s private property.  Cattle, on the other hand, may be offered whole because it generally only eats from its master’s provisions.

1) We do not find the Torah requiring a background check before bringing an animal as an offering.  Why should the dove’s actions play a role in its suitability as an offering?

2) As G-d did not endow animals with the intelligence to differentiate between private and public property, why is its behavior considered wrong?


This week’s Torah portion deals extensively with the korbanot, the vastly important and widely misunderstood animal and flour offerings brought in the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple.  Our sages teach us that the world rests on three pillars: the study and fulfillment of Torah, the Temple service and the performance of kindness to one’s fellow man.

1) The root of the Hebrew word for offering, ‘korban’, means drawing close. How could taking the life of an animal bring one closer to G-d?

2) Since the Temple’s destruction, the Temple offerings were replaced by our daily prayers – the service of the heart.  In what way could verbal prayers be a fitting replacement for the Temple offerings?

3) As one of the world’s three pillars, the Temple animal offerings seem to be on par with Torah study and performing acts of kindness. How could an animal offering, which seemingly requires only an investment of the sponsor’s time and financial resources, be as valuable as acts of kindness, which require an investment of one’s heart?


Many of the sacrifices described in our parsha are completely voluntary in nature.  If these mitzvot are so valuable, why isn’t their performance obligatory? (Birkas Peretz by Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky)


The end of this week’s Torah portion describes various laws pertaining to someone who deceitfully withholds another person’s money.  One who is entrusted with a possession and denies receiving it, or has found an item and now denies having it in his possession, has sinned against G-d (Vayikra 5:21-23).

  1. Why does the verse say that one who denies possession has sinned against G-d, rather than against man — specifically, the man who rightfully owns the item?
  2. If the deceiver goes so far as to swear falsely, he must pay the full value of the item he denied plus a surcharge equivalent to one-fifth of the item’s worth (Vayikra 5:24).  As the loss to the rightful owner was not affected by the fact the deceiver swore falsely, why is he the beneficiary of the one-fifth penalty?  How does paying a penalty to the damaged party address his compounded sin of swearing falsely?

Parsha Tidbits

Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study



    “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: ‘When a man among you brings an offering to G-d: from animals, from cattle, or from the flock, shall you bring your offering.’” Vayikra 1:2

    From cattle, or from the flock – The Torah only permitted sacrificial offerings to be brought from sheep or oxen, not from wild animals.  This is because wild animals prey upon cattle and flock, and G-d harbors a special love for the pursued, as opposed to the pursuer. – Rabbeinu Bachya

    “The Jewish people are pursued by the nations of the world.  Yet, the Almighty chose the Jewish people as His special nation, as the verse says, ‘And you were chosen by G-d to be to Him for a special nation.’  Rabbi Eliezer ben Rabbi Yosi ben Zimra said, ‘A similar dictum was said by the Almighty regarding the sacrificial offerings.  An ox is pursued by a lion, a lamb is pursued by a leopard, a goat by a wolf.  Don’t offer Me any offerings from the predators, rather, only from the hunted as the verse says, ‘An ox, lamb or goat, when it is born, shall be with its mother for seven days.’  From the eighth day and thereafter it may be favorably accepted as a sacrificial fire-offering before G-d.” – Medrash Rabbah, Vayikra 27:5

    “Rabbi Avahu said, ‘One should always number himself among the pursued rather than among the pursuers, for there are no birds more hunted than the pigeon and the dove.  Yet, the verse only allowed those species to be offered on the Altar.” – Talmud, Tractate Bava Kama 93a

    Although there are many varieties of sacrificial offerings, each of which is brought for a different reason, all of them share a common goal – to achieve closeness with the Almighty.  The ideal attitude to adopt when seeking this nearness is to approach the Almighty with a mindset similar to that of the pursued, who recognizes that he is dependent upon others for his salvation and that he must be prepared to reach out to whoever will save him.  Similarly, a Jew must realize that absent a special relationship with his Creator, he is lost and that he must reach out to the Almighty to help him overcome his sinful inclination.  Sacrificial-offerings, whose goal it is to enhance our relationship with the Almighty, must reflect this fact, and therefore only the aforementioned varieties of animals may be utilized.


    “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: ‘When a man among you brings an offering to G-d: from animals, from cattle, or from the flock, shall you bring your offering.’” 1:2

    From Animals, From Cattle, Or From The Flock – “One might have thought that perhaps even wild animals [chayos] are acceptable as offerings? The verse teaches us: Cattle and sheep only, [not wild animals]” – Rashi

    From Cattle, Or From The Flock – “Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon said, ‘The Almighty, Blessed be He, said to Israel, I have given you ten species of kosher animal.  Three are easily obtained, such as the ox, goat and calf.  The other seven are only obtained with difficulty such as the deer, the ram… Have I troubled you to go out to the mountains to obtain those animals for the purpose of offering a korbon (sacrifice)?  All I’ve asked for is an offering from among those that are readily obtained…’” – Medrash Tanchuma, Pinchas, Perek 12

    How important it is for a person to not pride himself in what he gives to the Almighty, the source of whatever a person has in this world.  All He asks is that we share with Him what is already in our possession from the largess He has already granted, not to go elsewhere and obtain extras on His behalf. – Chafetz Chaim al HaTorah

    This Medrash also points to the fact that the Almighty only asks of us to do what we are capable of.  He did not trouble us to run to the mountains to seek wild animals, for that would be too much of a bother.  Instead, he asked us merely to take from that which is readily available and there for the taking.  It is often said that when a person faces His Maker in the next world, he will not lament the large missed opportunities, but the small ones that were so readily available and so easy to take advantage of.  The Almighty not only seeks our company, but He makes it so easy to accomplish!


    “If one’s offering to G-d is an elevation-offering of fowl… He shall remove its entrails…and throw it beside the Altar, eastward, to the place of the ashes.” Vayikra 1:14-16

    With its entrails – Only when offering a bird as a sacrificial offering was the crop removed prior to burning it on the Altar.  The same was not done when offering an animal.  This is because the crop of the bird contains the digestive organs and the food remains, which often belonged to someone else, for birds rarely have a master who feeds them.  Cattle, on the other hand, often eat from that which belongs to their master, and therefore their entrails may be offered on the Altar. – Medrash Rabbah

    Rabbeinu Bachya points out that this law must serve as an inspiration for us to appreciate the severity of the sin of theft.  Just as the Almighty rejects bird entrails for fear that they contain traces of ill-begotten food, so too, will He reject us if our hands are sullied by tainted money.  To underscore this point, the Prophet Jeremiah warned us [17:11] that theft will drive a person from this world and will prevent his entry into the World to Come, for this particular sin inhibits the soul’s ability to reconnect with its Divine source.


    “If one’s offering to G-d is an elevation-offering of fowl…He shall split it with its feathers…the Kohen shall cause it to go up in smoke on the Altar…” Vayikra 1:14-17

    With its feathers – Even though there is hardly a more repulsive smell than that of burning feathers, the feathers are not stripped from the bird before being placed on the Altar.  Why?  Because fowl-offerings are commonly brought only by the poor and indigent and if the feathers were removed, so little would be left of the bird, it would embarrass the pauper who offered it. It is far better to endure the foul smell and let the Holy Altar be adorned by the poor man’s offering. – Rashi

    In Daat Torah, Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l, pointed out that the nature of a person is to desire to mingle with the rich and famous who dress to perfection and represent class and dignity.  Not so when it comes to the poor and destitute whose clothes hang shabbily, hair is unkempt, and often, emit a foul odor that is difficult to stomach.  People turn up their noses when in the presence of such company and make no secret of their distaste for the unwashed masses.  The Almighty, however, takes an opposite approach.  He seeks the company of the destitute, foul odor and all.  He even asks us to disregard the dignity of His Altar and place the odor-emitting feathers upon it in an attempt to show His love and concern for the dignity of the poor.  This important lesson was meant to be absorbed by the onlookers who were forced to endure the stench of feathers and inspire them to treat the poor man with dignity and honor.


    “When you bring a meal-offering of first grains to G-d, of newly ripened crops, roasted over fire, ground kernels, you shall bring your first grain meal-offering.” Vayikra 2:14

    When you bring a meal-offering – The Altar was created out of earth as was man who was created from the earth of the spot where the Altar later rested.  This was done because man was destined to sin, and the Altar could offer him atonement.  However, this was true while the Holy Temple stood, and the Altar was there to atone for him.  Now that the Temple has been destroyed, and since there never was an Altar outside of Israel, how do the Jewish people attain atonement?  By attending to, visiting, and respecting the Torah sages and their students.  How do we know that the Torah sages serve as an adequate substitute for the Altar in this regard?  For it is written, “And when you will bring a meal offering of first-grains…” and it also says (Kings 2 2:4), “And a man came from Baal Shlishah and he brought to the Man of G-d [Elishah] bread of the first-grains.”  Why would he bring the bread of the first-grains to Elishah if the Temple was not located in his vicinity?  This teaches us that one who cleaves to Torah sages and their students [such as Elishah] is considered as one who has fulfilled the will of his Father in Heaven. – Tanna D’bei Eliyahu Zuta 2

    “One who gives a gift to a Torah Scholar is as if he offered the first-fruits.” – Talmud, Tractate Kesubos 105b

    “Although it is praiseworthy to give gifts to a Torah Scholar, this is only true for small gifts. Large gifts, however, may not be accepted by the Torah Scholar.” – Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 246:22

    Mesilas Yesharim [Path of the Just, Ch. 26, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto] writes, “That which it says, ‘One who brings a gift to a Torah Scholar is considered as if he offered the meal-offering of first-fruits,’ and ‘Fill the throats of Torah sages with wine in place of the wine libations [on the Altar],’ is not to imply that Torah scholars should pursue indulgence in food and drink…Rather, since the Torah scholars are sacred in their ways and in all their deeds, they are considered just like the Holy Temple and the Altar.  The Divine Presence rests upon the Torah scholars just as it rested upon the Holy Temple, and one who offers them bread is as one who offered meal-offerings of first-fruits on the Altar…” These words offer great comfort to the masses, for although we mourn the lack of a Holy Temple, by aiding and cleaving to Torah scholars, we can still take advantage of many of the benefits formerly provided by the Holy Temple.


    “When a ruler sins and commits one from among all of the commandments of Hashem his G-d that may not be done, unintentionally, and is guilty.” Vayikra 4:22

    When a ruler sins – The term, “When” in this verse is unusual.  In Hebrew, the word is “asher” and is related to the word “osher” – good fortune.  The use of the word “asher” symbolizes the following idea: Fortunate is the generation whose leader is willing to bring an atonement offering to cleanse himself of unintentional sins. – Rashi

    This can be compared to a maidservant who dropped her clay pitcher in the well and was unable to retrieve it.  Saddened by her loss, she returned to her mistress despondent and in a state of despair. Soon after, the princess went to the very same well and accidentally dropped her golden decanter into the well.  As soon as the news reached the maidservant, she was overjoyed.  She reasoned that once they were in the process of retrieving the princess’ golden decanter, they’d surely find her own missing pitcher as well, and return it to her. – Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu

    In Parshat Vayechi, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk explained why the generation whose leader atones for his inadvertent sins is considered fortunate.  All too often, the leaders are so exalted and elevated above the nation that they fail to truly properly connect with the simple folk.  The righteous people are too distant from sin to appreciate the struggles of the boors and sinners and are incapable of inspiring them to greater spiritual heights.  To remedy this imbalance, the Almighty places minor stumbling blocks in the path of the righteous in the hopes that they’ll trip up and taste sin in some small measure. Once they do, they suddenly become aware of the challenges faced by the common man and a bond is automatically created between the two.  Perversely, their downfall and subsequent repentance serve as a vehicle for greater growth and inspiration for their generation.

Hey, I Never Knew That


The book of Vayikra begins with and details the laws of the sacrifices. It opens with the statement, “A person who brings from among you, an offering” (Vayikra 1:2).  The Sforno understands this to mean that every sacrifice must be preceded by the giving of oneself over to G-d, as implied by the phraseology of the verse.  It should have said, “A person from among you, who brings an offering.” Instead it states, “A person who brings from among you, an offering.”  This sounds as if the offering itself is “from among you.”  The Sforno explains that first one must repent one’s sin and confess, in other words, offer himself to G-d, and only then may he bring an offering.  He goes on to say that G-d has “no desire for fools who bring sacrifices without humbling themselves beforehand.”  Similarly, the Talmud (Chullin 5a) understands that when the verse states “from among you” it means to say “from among you, but not all of you,” and thus excludes an apostate or an unrepentant evildoer from bringing an offering.


“He is a witness who either saw or knew…” (Vayikra 5:1).  The Talmud (Shavuot 33b) explains that a witness who “saw” is one who witnessed an actual event, for example, a loan.  The witness who “knew” refers to a witness who saw evidence of a prior event, for example, the debtor admitting to the creditor that he owes him money, even though he did not “see” the prior event.  Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner writes that the Jewish people, whom G-d calls “My witnesses” (Isaiah 43:10), are witnesses to creation even though they did not see it.  When the Jews experienced the ten plagues in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, they saw events that testified to creation even though they did not see creation.  So the Jewish people are witnesses who “know” and, as this week’s Torah portion indicates, are equal to witnesses who “saw.”

Word of the Week


  • תור

    “…he shall offer a sacrifice from the species of the תור tor. The tor is a smaller variety of the dove, which develops bright red feathers on its neck when it matures (RashiChullin 22b).  The name tor is onomatopoeic, and reflects the sound that the bird makes, “torrrr, torrr, torrr.”  Hence, the English translation “turtle-dove” has no relationship to turtles but is a quasi-transliteration of the Hebrew, tor. In a famous and amusing translation, the King James Version translates the verse in Song of Songs (2:12), “the voice of the tor was heard in our land” as “the voice of the turtle was heard in our land” (The Living Torah, Aryeh Kaplan).



    Many times in the weekly Torah portion we find that the person who offers a sacrifice must place his hands on its head and confess to G-d before the sacrifice is offered.  The verb used for the placing of hands is סמך — samach.  Similarly, when Moses confers authority to Joshua and places his hand on his head, the verb used is סמך.  The word samach — to support, or to be close to — also means to deputize and to rely upon.  When one places one’s hands on the sacrifice, one is relying on its effectiveness to bring one close to G-d, and one is also, in a sense, deputizing the animal to stand in for the sinner.  The term is also used to refer to סמיכה — rabbinic ordination, because the process of conferring authority, which began with Moses and Joshua, continues through the granting of rabbinic ordination (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch).

Dear Rabbi

The Torah commands the Jews to bring salt together with every offering on the altar: “On all your offerings you shall bring salt” (Vayikra 2:13).  The Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chaim 167:5) rules that since the table upon which we eat is in place of the altar and our food is in place of the sacrifices, we should have salt on the table at every meal.  The Mishnah Berurah explains that when we share our food with the needy, we receive atonement as though we brought an offering in the Temple, and when we eat with the intent to strengthen ourselves to serve G-d, then our food is like a sacrifice.  Since salt is a preservative, we put it on the altar as a sign that our covenant and relationship with G-d is permanent and will never “decay,” and to remind us that without the “salt” of the service to G-d we will in fact “decay” (Chinuch 119).  Later authorities were asked if one can use sugar instead if one does not have salt.  Many authorities permit this, since sugar also acts as a preservative and could have been used on the altar in the absence of salt (Respona Halachot Ketanot 218, Responsa Divrei Chaim Yoreh Deah 1:25).


With the increase in Jewish settlement in Israel in the 19th Century, the question arose as to whether it was possible to renew the sacrificial service in Jerusalem even in the absence of the Holy Temple. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer advocated for a renewal of the sacrifices and maintained that it was not necessary to have a Temple, and that an altar in Jerusalem would suffice.  He exchanged letters with numerous rabbis in Europe and Israel, generating many responses both for and against.  Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was adamantly opposed and felt that it was both halachically and pragmatically impossible to bring sacrifices today.  The two most famous responses were those of Rabbi Akivah Eiger and his son-in-law Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Responsa Chatam SoferY.D. 236) both of whom believed that it would theoretically be possible, but would be practically impossible due to Moslem opposition and other political factors (Derishat Zion, Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem, 2003 pp. 348-350).

Parsha at a Glance

Vayikra describes several major categories of offerings brought by the Jewish people.  The Elevation Offering (Olah), the Meal Offering (Mincha), the Peace Offering (Shlomim), the Sin Offering (Chatas), the Variable Offering (Oleh V’yored), and the Guilt Offering (Ashom).

The Elevation Offering: Voluntary. Brought by: someone who intentionally committed a sin that carries no punishment; someone who failed to perform a positive commandment; someone who had sinful thoughts but did not act on those thoughts; everyone who ascended to Jerusalem on the Pilgrimage Festivals; anyone who wished to raise his spiritual level.  It could be brought from cattle, flocks, or fowl.  If from cattle, it required an unblemished male; if from flocks, it could an unblemished male sheep or goat.  Elevation offerings from fowl could be brought from turtledoves or young doves.

The Meal Offering consisted of finely ground wheat flour, oil, and frankincense (in most cases water was added as well).  Meal offerings were most often brought by the poor, and as such were greatly treasured by G-d.  The Meal Offering could take several forms:  the fine flour offering, oven-baked – either in loaves or wafers –pan baked, or deep-pan baked.  The Meal Offerings could not be leavened (chametz) or contain fruit honey. Instead, chametz was offered as the Two Loaves of offered on Shavuous, and the fruit was brought as the First Fruit offering (Bikkurim).  The Torah notes that salt must be used with every Meal Offering, and also describes the Omer offering, which was brought on the second day of Passover. The Omer was a communal offering of barely, also not leavened.  Grain from the new crops was prohibited from being eaten until the Omer offering was brought.

The Peace Offering was a voluntary offering, meant to express love of G-d, gratitude for His goodness, and closeness to Him.   A portion of the Peace Offering was placed on the Altar, a portion consumed by the Priest, and a portion eaten by the owners.  It could be brought from unblemished, male or female cattle, sheep or goats.

A Sin Offering atoned for sins committed out of negligence or carelessness.  The Torah lists several categories of Sin Offerings.  The first focuses on the case of a High Priest (Kohen Gadol) who issued a mistaken ruling.  He must bring a young, unblemished bull.  Next, the Torah describes the Sin Offering for cases when the Great Sanhedrin (Jewish court) of 71 judges issued a mistaken ruling and caused the nation to transgress.  This also takes the form of a young, unblemished bull.

A ruler of the nation who sins must also bring a Sin Offering.  Though similar to that of a commoner, the ruler’s Sin Offering must be from an unblemished male goat, whereas the common person’s Sin Offering must be of an unblemished female goat.

The Variable Offering (Korban Oleh Veyored) is a type of Sin Offering whose cost changed depending on the sinner’s ability to pay.  Therefore, it could be brought from cattle, sheep, fowl, or flour.  It atoned for for someone who (in this case intentionally) lied under oath, then admitted his lie; for someone who contaminated the Sanctuary, having first known and then forgotten he was ritually impure; or for someone who swore to do something but then later forgot the terms of his oath.

Guilt Offerings were brought for sins involving a higher level of negligence than those requiring a Sin Offering.  The first Guilt Offering described in the portion atones for the unauthorized use of sacred property.  This requires an unblemished ram, monetary restitution, plus an additional fifth.   A person who, in his negligence, is unsure whether he has committed a serious transgression must bring a Guilt Offering of an unblemished ram.  Finally, someone wishing to repent for bilking his fellow Jew out of money must pay restitution, plus an additional fifth,  and bring a Guilt Offering of an unblemished ram.