Commentary on Parashat Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1-5:26; Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Moses has conducted a ceremony to anoint the Tent of Appointed Meeting and the Priests who will officiate in it. A cloud now covers the Tent of Appointed Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord fills the Tabernacle.
God calls to Moses, “Explain to the sons of Israel the ways of bringing offerings to God. There will be offerings of animals and grains and fruit. Animals for sacrifice shall be male and without blemish. These animals shall be killed and washed and burned so each shall smoke on the altar in the Tent of Appointed Meeting. This will be for an ascent offering, an offering made by fire in expression of compliance to God and to make atonement before God.
“For the grain, make the offering with fine wheat flour and oil and incense. Put it straight on the altar. Anything leavened shall be made into a fire offering. You shall season every offering of grain with salt.
“For the offerings of cattle and small livestock, all the fat belongs to God. It shall be an everlasting statute for your descendants in all your dwelling places not to eat any fat, nor any blood.
“If a person inadvertently sins, then sin offerings are to be made. If the entire council of Israel sins inadvertently and something is hidden from the community, guilt will be incurred. If the sin becomes known in the community, then the community shall bring an offering for sin. A bull is to be brought by the elders of the community and made into an offering to clear the community of sin.
“If a prince commits a sin, then he has incurred guilt. He shall take a buck from the goat species and sacrifice its blood upon the altar of ascent offering, then burn its fat in a fire offering for peace. This is an offering to clear him of sin.
“If any person from among the people sins by doing something God commands shall not be done, then guilt will be incurred. A she-goat, without blemish will be taken for this sin offering. Then the priest will make the fat go up in smoke as an expression of compliance to God. The priest will effect atonement for him for his sin and he will be forgiven.
“A person incurs guilt when he is a witness but does not testify. A person incurs guilt when he touches an unclean animal or unclean human. Even when the touching goes unnoticed, guilt is incurred when the sin is discovered. A person incurs guilt when he swears in an oath to deny or to grant something but does neither.
“If a person incurs guilt, he shall acknowledge to himself that he has sinned and he shall bring to God an offering for his guilt. The offerings of small livestock, a female sheep or goat, shall clear him of his sin. If the person’s means are not sufficient enough for sheep, then two turtle-doves or two young pigeons can be offered to God. One is an offering to clear sin and one is an ascent offering.
“If the person’s means are not even sufficient for these animals or birds, then an ephah (measurement) of fine flower is to be the offering to clear sin. He shall put no oil upon it, nor incense. He shall take it to a priest, who will take a handful, a memorial portion, and smoke it on the altar as a fire offering to God. The priest will effect atonement for his sins and he will be forgiven. And it shall belong to the priest like the homage offering.
Breach of Trust
“If a person commits a breach of trust and thoughtlessly trespasses against any of the holy things of God, he shall bring an expression of his guilt to God. One ram, without blemish, shall be given. This ram shall be of value equal to the money offering given in the Sanctuary. And he shall make restitution, and shall add to it one-fifth and give it to the priest. The priest shall then effect atonement for him.
“A person who sins for acting negligently incurs guilt. He shall bring a ram to the priest to effect atonement for him for his act of negligence and he will be forgiven. It is a guilt offering. He is surely guilty before God.
“A person sins and commits a breach of trust against God by making a denial to his neighbor with regard to something entrusted to him or a loan or an object taken by robbery. A person also sins when he withholds something from his neighbor or if he has found a lost article and denies it or has sworn to a lie. If the person knows of the sin and breach of trust against God, then guilt is incurred.
“The person shall restore what was stolen or withheld, or what was entrusted to him for safekeeping, or the lost article which he has found, or anything else about which he lied. The person shall pay for it in capital, equivalent to its value, and shall add one-fifth of the value of it to atone. On the day the person acknowledges his guilt, the person shall pay for it to the one to whom it is rightfully due. But as for his guilt offering, he shall bring it to God. He shall bring an unblemished ram as a guilt offering and give it to the priest who shall effect atonement for him before God.
“Then the person will be forgiven regarding any one of the things done to incur guilt.”
Parashat Vayikra Discussion Questions
1) Why is God so specific in what kind of offerings can be given to God for different purposes? What difference does it make what kind of offering or how it is made, as long as it is an offering?
2) What is guilt? What do you do with your guilt? Why do we need to seek forgiveness for our sins and for the guilt incurred?
3) How can an offering to God on an altar in the holy Sanctuary clear one of sin or guilt? Why does a Priest need to “effect the atonement?” Do we still need a Priest to “effect the atonement?” Why or why not?
4) Is it necessary to seek forgiveness from God and from another human? Can you do one and not the other? Why or why not?
5) Describe how it feels to be forgiven by God. Describe how it feels to be forgiven by another human. How is the feeling of forgiveness the same or different?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!