Parashat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26)

“He shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering,
that it may be acceptable in his behalf, in expiation for him. ” (Leviticus 1:4)

Parashat Vayikra (And he called) opens the third and central book of the Torah (also called Vayikra). It describes the sacrificial rite in great detail: how the animals shall be cut up, which parts shall be removed or burned, how the blood shall be splashed on the altar, and which parts may be eaten by the priests. Vayikra offends many people, who consider Biblical sacrificial worship primitive at best, and more often than not, revolting.

Rabbi Maurice Harris (American rabbi, writer, and teacher) notes korban, usually translated as sacrifice (to give up something of value), comes from the root KRB, which means to draw near, bring close, or join together (as in chaver, or friend). “Communion offering,” or just plain “offering”, is a better translation, because it conveys the purpose of the act: to bring us closer to God by repairing the damage to the relationship (which has estranged us). That’s fine, but still…

The elaborate korban ritual is actually a statement of awe, respect, and reverence. Slaughtering and butchering (and eating) an animal is permitted, but only if the sanctity of life (and its fragility) and blood as the symbol of the life force—something humans and animals share—are acknowledged and honored. This is the essence of both the korban system and the kosher laws.

Nowadays, Harris observes, we walk past grocery store displays of shrink-wrapped and cut-up animal parts, and talk on our cell phones while we toss the packages casually into our grocery carts, without thought to factory-farm conditions, the manner of slaughter, or the animal as a living being. For most of us, consumption of meat is disconnected from its source or production; Vayikra reminds us of the seriousness of the issue.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom