Parshat Vayikra –The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus)

The Jews have just finished building the Mishkan or Tabernacle.  The entire book of Vayikra details the laws of the sacrifices which were to be brought, the roles of the priests and Levites, laws of purity, and the ideal of becoming holy. The Ramban, Nachmanides, explains that the reason these laws follow the building of the Mishkan is so that we understand that the services and sacrifices were to act as a way to keep ourselves on a certain spiritual level.

The idea of bringing Korbanot or sacrifices is one which is difficult both to teach and understand in our modern age.  Therefore, we need to delve into the deeper meaning of the meaning and purposes of korbanot.  In the last parsha column, I wrote about the idea in the Talmud that the altar/sacrifices became a way for us to atone for our sins and to become closer to God. How does this happen?

First we need to look at the word “korban”. The Hebrew word comes from the root – K.R.V. (karav), which means to come closer. The sacrifice was a primary means for the Jews to gain atonement for sins. However, we also know that there were other sacrifices that were brought without being related to a sin. Therefore, the purpose of the korban must not have only been for atonement.  The real goal of every Korban/sacrifice was to bring the individual closer to God. Rabbi Bechayei states that, “A korban served as a vehicle for the most righteous to connect to the highest levels of G-d‘s unity possible.”

When we give something to someone else we create a relationship. In bringing something that belonged to us and giving it symbolically to God, we are acknowledging that we recognize God as the creator of all ( How else do we create a relationship with God? We create it through creating relationships with other human beings. We do this by recognizing the holiness of each and every individual – rich, poor, slave, free man, widow and orphan.

“We do not love our fellow man because we connect directly to him as another human being. Rather, since we are both connected to G-d, I can recognize that he, like me, has a core of holiness. Both of us ultimately derive from the same source. Seen in this light, my neighbor is really not as separate a human being as it first seems. The source of my relating to my fellowman is holiness, not universal brotherhood. I cannot verbally abuse or embarrass this G-d-like being. I must judge his financial disputes. And I must certainly not take financial advantage of him. The laws of love and rebuke, etc. belong squarely in the middle of the lessons of the Korban.” (www.Morashasyllabus)

The purpose of all of the Torah, both the laws between man and G-d as well as the laws between man and man, is holiness. One way that we achieve holiness is by becoming closer to God via our korbanot. The other way we achieve holiness is by creating relationships with other human beings, recognizing that everyone is created as a “tzelem elokim” – in the image of God. Through our mitzvoth, sacrifices, prayers and acts of kindness, we create a world where everyone and everything is considered holy. It is an intensive job, but one with multiple rewards.  That is the message of the Korbanot and the book of Vayikra.