Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayikra March 7, 2014

Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

As we begin this year’s study of Vayikra/Leviticus, we turn our attention first to the topic of sacrifices which will figure prominently throughout this book of the Torah.

Sacrifices have been difficult to understand for many of us. How can it be that by bringing one’s sacrifice for a committed sin that the sin is forgiven? Surely the sacrifice is not like a bribe offered to God in exchange for forgiveness – God forbid!!!

The Sages teach that there are many reasons for sacrifices but we will dwell on the major one.

The sacrifice was intended to arouse a person’s heart to understand that sin against God is no small matter. Considering that God’s love and goodness towards us is constant; that every day and every hour His blessings sustain us, we must realize how grievous it is to sin against such incomparable love! Therefore God commanded that when we sin, we must repent, change our ways and bring a sacrifice. In Temple times, when the animal was brought and slaughtered, the penitent was made to realize that it was he, himself, who deserved to die for his sin but recognized God’s mercy in sparing his life. It is important to note that in the Hebrew the sacrifices are never described as offerings to “Elohim” (God’s name that refers to His justice) but to YHVH (HaShem) which refers to God’s attribute of MERCY. We learn from this that God accepts the sacrifice because He has compassion and mercy upon the individual who repents and comes to Him.

The penitent is urged to meditate on what happened to the animal; it was slaughtered, burned and reduced to ashes. It serves to remind us that we came to this earth with nothing and will take nothing with us to the world to come, except our obedience to God and the good deeds that express that obedience.

Now some may say: But what of us today? There is no Temple; there are no sacrifices to be offered and haven’t been for nearly two thousand years. What does this mean for us today?

It is critical to understand that there was no sin offering prescribed in the Torah that atoned for intentional sin. The only means of forgiveness and atonement for intentional sin was and still is today sincere repentance and confession on the part of the sinner; however, the sinner is still subject to the penalties of the Torah or the civil authorities.

So, how can we relate to this Torah portion? The quote, “If any man of you bring an offering to the Lord,” initially seems to imply that the offering consists only of the animal that is to be sacrificed. However, let’s look at the quote a little differently: “If any man bring an offering to the Lord of you,” seems to indicate that there is a sacrifice within the human heart that corresponds to the physical sacrifice of the animal in times past.

God had already told Moses to build a physical sanctuary. “And let them make Me a Sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) The Tabernacle was intended to be an outward demonstration that God’s real intent was to live IN and THROUGH His people on this earth.

When we love God and guard His commandments, He dwells within our hearts. When we fail/sin today, our repentance, as in days of old, must come from our heart, sincerely. The ‘sacrifice’ we offer as a result of our repentance, can be expressed through reparation if the sin involved hurting another person; or the change we implement in turning away from that particular sin and no longer repeating it.

In Tune with Torah this week = an honest look into our own hearts and lives to see if there be any habit or attitude inconsistent with the ways of God and His Torah. If so, let us repent sincerely and bring Him what King David called “the sacrifice of our lips” in repenting and receiving His forgiveness.

Shabbat Shalom

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