Parashat Vayikra

Sacrifices Are Alive And Well!

The model of sacrifices, of offering our kindness, generosity and compassion even if it is difficult, inspires us to continue to draw close to God.

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Provided by the Union of Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

God instructs Moses on the five different kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered in the sanctuary:

  • The olah or "burnt offering" was a voluntary sacrifice that had a high degree of sanctity and was regarded as the "standard" offering. The entire animal, except for its hide, was burned on the altar. (Leviticus 1:1-17)

  • The minchah or "meal offering" was a sacrifice made of flour, oil, salt, and frankincense that was partly burned on the altar and partly given to the priests to eat. (Leviticus 2:1-16)

  • The zevach sh'lamim or "sacrifice of well-being" was a voluntary animal offering from one's herd, sometimes brought to fulfill a vow. (Leviticus 3:1-17)

  • The chatat or "sin offering" was an obligatory sacrifice that was offered to expiate unintentional sins. This offering differs from the others in the special treatment of the blood of the animal. (Leviticus 4:1-5:13)

  • The asham or "penalty offering" was an obligatory sacrifice of a ram that was required chiefly of one who had misappropriated property. (Leviticus 5:1-26)

Focal Point

If his offering to Adonai is a burnt offering of birds, he shall choose his offering from turtledoves or pigeons. The priest shall bring it to the altar, pinch off its head, and turn it into smoke on the altar; and its blood shall be drained out against the side of the altar. He shall remove its crop with its contents and cast it into the place of the ashes, at the east side of the altar. The priest shall tear it open by its wings, without severing it, and turn it into smoke on the altar, upon the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, an offering by fire, of pleasing odor to Adonai. (Leviticus 1:14-17)

Your Guide

What purpose did the sacrifices serve for our forefathers?

What did ancient sacrifices look like? (To answer this question, read most of the parashah.)

Today we do not have an altar for sacrifices and we no longer sacrifice living animals. What are our present-day sacrifices?

Do you think that sacrifices should be difficult to offer?

By the Way…

The term "sacrifice" comes from a Latin word meaning "to make something holy." The most common Hebrew equivalent is korban, "something brought near," i.e., to the altar. (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, edited by W. Gunther Plaut, UAHC Press, 1981, p. 750)

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Deborah Gettes is a consultant for special needs education for the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education of Greater Philadelphia.