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

“It is a law for all time throughout the ages, in all your settlements:

you must not eat any fat or any blood.”  (Leviticus 3:17)


What a difference a week makes! Last week we reveled in the glory of the unity of the Jewish people as Moses assembled them all to build the mishkan, or Tabernacle.   This week we read Vayikra, (and he called) which describes in detail cutting animals into pieces and burning them on the altar as offerings to God.  (Sacrifice is the primary mode of worship in Biblical times).  This jump from creating sacred space to creating sacred smells is jarring, and for some, revolting.  Nine times, the description of the sacrificial ritual ends with the phrase, rei-ach nicho-ach ladonai, a pleasing odor to God (Lev. 1:9).  Since the Torah doesn’t waste words, the repetition signals an important idea.


Now, anyone who visits a slaughterhouse knows the odor is never sweet.  The rabbis acknowledge this by declaring it a miracle that, “No woman miscarried because of the aroma of the sacrificial meat.” (Pirkei Avot 5:5)  We also know the sacrificial ritual included aromatic incense, perhaps to mask the less pleasant aromas.  So Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the 11th century Jewish commentator) connects the word nicho-ach to nachat, Hebrew for comfort or pleasure, and claims it refers to God’s pleasure at the ritual properly performed.  Maimonides (1137-1204; the preeminent Spanish medieval Jewish philosopher) adds that what pleases God is the effect of the sacrifice on the one who offered it.  Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; a German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism), includes both these perspectives and interprets it to mean the satisfaction of the request and the aspirations of the other.


Rei-ach nicho-ach describes something other than actual odor; it describes how human behavior affects God’s experience.  As such, it is a metaphor and model for successful interpersonal interaction.


Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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