Parashat Vayikra introduces the five essential korbanot (Biblical sacrifices):
a) the olah, an offering that is brought twice a day that is completely burnt up. Its ashes are to be removed from the mizbeach (altar) every morning;
b) the minchah, a meal offering composed of fine flour, oil and frankincense and whose remains are eaten by the kohanim (priests)
c) the chatat, a sin offering brought for accidental wrongs that is slaughtered and eaten by the kohanim;
d) the asham, a guilt offering that is slaughtered, burned and eaten by the sons of the kohanim;
e) the zevach shelamim, the well-being or peace offering given to God as a gift of thanksgiving. It includes the animal being sacrificed as well as unleavened cakes and wafers mixed with oil. This korban is offered by individuals when the spirit moves them. Part of the sacrifice is burned while the rest is eaten by the Kohen who offers it and the individual who brought it.
These sacrifices were offered by people to show their love and devotion to God, and were only replaced by prayer once the Holy Temple was destroyed. For this reason, it is often hard for the modern Jew to relate to the sacrificial system, but something we can all relate to is the need to sometimes make difficult and even uncomfortable sacrifices in our own lives.
As we reflect on the meaning of the parasha, let us contemplate the following questions this week around the Shabbat table or just in holy conversation:
a) What types of sacrifices have you needed to make to keep peace in your family and among your friends?
b) Do you have any need to make a sin or guilt offering for something you did recently?
c) If you were making a thanksgiving offering this week, for what would you thank God?
May these questions help us better understand the lessons of our Torah portion this week.
– Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff