Leviticus - Vayikramain postsVayikra

Parashat Vayikra 5784: Aliyah by Aliyah

אָדָם כִּי יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַהוי'…. אִם עֹלָה קָרְבָּנוֹ (ויקרא א, ב־ג)

“When a man among you brings a sacrifice to God…. If his sacrifice is a burnt-offering” (Leviticus 1:2-3)

First Reading: Atonement for All Mankind

The first commandment in our new chumash of Vayikra, Leviticus, is the commandment to bring a sacrifice. The Torah begins, “When a man among you brings a sacrifice to God…. If his sacrifice is a burnt-offering”[1] (אָדָם כִּי יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַהוי'…. אִם עֹלָה קָרְבָּנוֹ). The word “his sacrifice” (קרבנו) has the same value as “Mashiach” (משיח). All the sacrifices in general are related to teshuvah, to returning to God, and the burnt offering (עֹלָה)—which is consumed in its entirety by the flames on the altar—is no exception.

The burnt offering makes amends for transgressing positive commandments by not doing them. But, as Rasbhi states in the Talmud, the burnt-offering also makes amends for an improper thought (הרהור הלב). In the Talmud, Rabbi Levi says that Rashbi’s teaching is based on an explicit verse, “And what you have in mind shall never come to pass—when you say, ‘We will be like the nations, like the families of the lands, worshiping wood and stone.’ As I live—declares the Sovereign GOD—I will reign over you with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with overflowing fury”[2] (וְהָעֹלָה עַל רוּחֲכֶם הָיוֹ לֹא תִהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם אֹמְרִים נִהְיֶה כַגּוֹיִם כְּמִשְׁפְּחוֹת הָאֲרָצוֹת לְשָׁרֵת עֵץ וָאָבֶן. חַי אָנִי נְאֻם אֲ־דֹנָי י־הוה אִם לֹא בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרוֹעַ נְטויָה וּבְחֵמָה שְׁפוּכָה אֱמְלוֹךְ עֲלֵיכֶם.).

The sages explain that this verse is meant to reveal how dear we are to God. Even if we think otherwise in our hearts, God promises to be our King regardless. In any case, God says “I am your King, and you are my people.” And, in the end, we will come to experience that, “God will be King over the entire earth, on that day God and His Name will be one.”

A Universal Message

In the Sifra, the legalistic Midrash on Leviticus, it says that the words, “a man from among you” (אָדָם מִכֶּם) is phrased with the word “man” (אָדָם), Adam, and not with the more frequently used Ish (איש), because Scripture intends to include converts. If we are explaining the word “man” let us also mention that we find a reference to the relationship between man and animal in the word “from among you” (מכם), which the Alter Rebbe explains indicates that a person is required to bring his inner animal as a sacrifice.

Once again, “man” includes the convert. There is even a more marginal reading that says that it comes to include non-Jews who wish to bring a sacrifice. What we learn from this is that “a man” (Adam) addresses all mankind. This is the basis for Rashi’s commentary that “a man” here alludes to the first man, Adam: Just as Adam did not bring his sacrifice[3] from anything stolen (since he could claim to own everything[4]) so you should bring a sacrifice from what is yours and not from something that is stolen.

The relationship between man and animal concerning sacrifices is captured in the verse, “Man and animal you shall save, O’ God”[5] (אָדָם־וּבְהֵמָה תוֹשִׁיעַ הוי'). The sages say that this refers to people who are clever in intellect but comport themselves [humbly and self-effacingly] like animals.[6] Rashi on the verse explains that it refers to Adam, the first man, who was clever and conscious but comported himself with a low spirit, like an animal. Who else does this refer to? To King David who says about himself, “I am with you like an animal”[7] (בְּהֵמוֹת הָיִיתִי עִמָּךְ). So, “man and beast” refers to both Adam and David, since David was the main example of a person who made himself like a beast. If we have Adam and David whose initials are alef and dalet, then Mashiach, whose initial is mem, completes the well-known acronym of “Adam” (אדם)—“Adam David Mashiach” (אדם דוד משיח).

Our purpose then should be to reach all the people on earth. First, this refers to Jews, who are referred to as “Adam,” but also all the converts and all the non-Jews. The word “a man” in this verse motivates us to include everyone. If our actions and our teachings do not include everyone, then the teshuvah we do is not yet complete.

Four Verses About Man

There is a tradition that compares four verses in which the word “man” (אָדָם) appears. The first verse is, “A man, should he die in a tent”[8] (אָדָם כִּי יָמוּת בְּאֹהֶל). From this verse, the sages learn that the Torah can only be learned by someone willing to die, figuratively, when learning it. The second verse is, “When a man has on the skin of the body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration…”[9] (אָדָם כִּי יִהְיֶה בְעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ שְׂאֵת אוֹ סַפַּחַת אוֹ בַהֶרֶת), a verse from parashat Tazria, describing the plague of leprosy. Since it starts with the word “man” it means that leprosy is something that only a special person, worthy of being called a “man” can have. The third verse is in our parashah, “When a man among you brings a sacrifice to God…” (אָדָם כִּי־יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַהוי'). And the fourth verse is the verse we quoted, “Man and animal you shall save, O’ God”[10] (אָדָם־וּבְהֵמָה תוֹשִׁיעַ הוי'). These four verses correspond to the four Worlds, from Emanation to Action and there is a “man” in each of the four Worlds. Earlier, we drew the connection between the 3rd man and the 4th, but now we will see that the fourth verse, despite being from Psalms, is higher than the 3rd. These four verses with “man” also correspond to the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah, from below to above.

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (someone the Rebbe Tzemach Tzedek respected very much) has a beautiful explanation for this mesorah of four verses that contain the word “man.” He says that this mesorah is alluding almost explicitly to a well-known teaching from the sages, brought in the Jerusalem Talmud and in the Yalkut Shimoni. In this teaching, the question is posed: “The sinning soul, what will be with it?” The Jerusalem Talmud uses a variant of this question and says, “The sinning soul, what is its punishment?”

The question is then posed four times. First, it is posed to wisdom. Wisdom answers: “The sinning soul should die.” Only death can atone for sin. Then prophecy was asked the same question. Prophecy replied: “The sinner should be pursued by trials and tribulations, and the suffering will cleanse it.” Then the Torah was asked. It replied that such a soul should bring a sacrifice to atone. The Torah brings in its support the opening verse of our parashah, referring to the person who is sinning in his heart, in a hidden thought. Finally, God himself is asked the question, and He answers differently: Not that the sinner should die, nor that he should suffer, not even that he should bring a sacrifice, just that he should do teshuvah, and he will be forgiven.

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger says that these four answers correspond exactly to the four verses brought in this mesorah about “man” (אדם). It is important to note that there are some readings where wisdom and prophecy’s verses are switched. In any case, the first verse, “A man, should he die in a tent”[11] (אָדָם כִּי יָמוּת בְּאֹהֶל) is wisdom’s answer. The idea here is not to actually die, but to figuratively die in learning and serving God. The second “man” is the suffering of leprosy which is what the prophecy said. The third is even more explicit. The Torah answered that a person should bring a sacrifice, which is the third verse, the verse from the beginning of Vayikra, “When a man among you brings a sacrifice to God…” (אָדָם כִּי־יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַהוי'). Finally, the fourth answer, given by God, that a person should just do teshuvah, is the verse, “Man and animal you shall save, O’ God”[12] (אָדָם־וּבְהֵמָה תוֹשִׁיעַ הוי'). The Almighty has mercy even on the animal. When you bring a sacrifice, it is in place of you yourself being sacrificed. That is why a person has to place his hands on the animal’s head with all his strength, connecting with it.[13] All this is the third (or second) level, that requires the sinner to bring a sacrifice. But if a person does teshuvah, both he and the animal are saved (the animal is also not sacrificed). This is an immeasurably higher level than the previous three verses.

Since we are discussing parashat Vayikra, we should identify most with bringing a sacrifice. Still we should know that the universal response to sin for all mankind is God’s answer, that through teshuvah God has mercy even on animals.

from a shiur given on 1 Nissan 5773)


וְכָל־קָרְבַּ֣ן מִנְחָתְךָ֮ בַּמֶּ֣לַח תִּמְלָח֒ וְלֹ֣א תַשְׁבִּ֗ית מֶ֚לַח בְּרִ֣ית אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ מֵעַ֖ל מִנְחָתֶ֑ךָ עַ֥ל כָּל־קָרְבָּנְךָ֖ תַּקְרִ֥יב מֶֽלַח (ויקרא ב, יא)

“And all your meal offerings you shall salt with salt, and you shall not omit the salt covenant of your God from upon your meal offering; upon all your offerings you shall offer salt.” (Leviticus 2:11)

Second Reading: Mixing Salt

Nachmanides explains that, following the theory of four elements, salt is a mixture of elemental water and elemental fire. Salt is extracted from water (especially from the sea of salt, the Dead Sea) while the salt itself burns like fire. Thus, salt is the mixing of the opposites of the traits of loving-kindness (water) and might or fear (fire).

The people of Israel too consist of many different shades and even opposites. There is no need to nullify one or the other because they are opposites, rather we need to find the “salt” that unites them. The “salt covenant” in our verse also appears in connection with the priestly gifts enumerated in the Torah portion of Korach.[14] It is also mentioned in reference to the rule of the House of David, “You should know that Havayah, the God of Israel, has given dominion to David over Israel for eternity, for him and his sons, a salt covenant.”[15] Thus, it is the king (מֶלֶךְ) who acts like the salt (מֶלַח) connecting the disparate elements of the people.

Turning to our modern understanding of chemistry: salt is a compound made up of sodium and chloride. Sodium’s atomic number is 11, and chloride’s is 17, so we can associate salt with the number 28 (every molecule of salt has 28 protons and 28 electrons). Sodium has one extra valence electron while chloride is missing a valence electron. Sodium thus donates its extra electron to chloride, thus creating an ionic bond. Relatively then, sodium is masculine (because it donates its electron) while chloride is feminine, receiving the extra electron.

Amazingly, these numbers are alluded to in the verse from our parashah, quoted above. In the words, “And you shall not omit the salt covenant of your God from upon your meal offering” (וְלֹא תַשְׁבִּית מֶלַח בְּרִית אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ מֵעַל מִנְחָתֶךָ) there are exactly 28 letters. These words constitute the strong, prohibitive element with regard to salt. Just the first three words, “And you shall not omit the salt…” (וְלֹא תַשְׁבִּית מֶלַח) have 11 letters, which means that the rest of the phrase has 17 letters. In addition, in the final positive directive, “Upon all your offerings you should offer salt” (עַל כָּל קָרְבָּנְךָ תַּקְרִיב מֶלַח) there are once again 17 letters. In addition, this entire verse has 17 words, and the previous verse has 11 words.

אִם מִנְחַ֥ת מַרְחֶ֖שֶׁת קָרְבָּנֶ֑ךָ (ויקרא ב, ז)

“If your offering is a grain offering in a deep frying pan…” (Leviticus 2:7)

The root of the Hebrew word for “a deep frying pan” (מַרְחֶשֶׁת) is רחש and it appears only 3 times in the entire Bible, here, in the word meaning “in the deep frying pan”[16] (בַמַּרְחֶשֶׁת) and a third time, in the root form, “My heart stirs with good things”[17] (רָחַשׁ).

This root means to quiver or stir and suggests “movement,” and Rashi indeed explains that the deep oil causes the loaves to quiver and move in the pan. There is a well-known principle that “all that is alive, moves”[18] (כָּל חַי מִתְנוֹעֵעַ).

Looking at the name of the deep frying pan (מַרְחֶשֶׁת), we see that the first and last letters spell “dead” (מֵת), but that within there is a sign of life, the “quivering” (רַחַשׁ). So something that is alive is quivering or stirring in that which is dead.

The sum of the two appearances of this deep pan in the Torah—מַרְחֶשֶׁת בַמַּרְחֶשֶׁת—is 1898, or 26 times 73, where 26 is the value of God’s essential Name, Havayah (י-הוה) and 73 is the value of “wisdom” (חָכְמָה), alluding to the verse, “They shall die, but not in wisdom”[19] (יָמוּתוּ וְלֹא בְחָכְמָה).

The word preceding the “deep frying pan” is “an offering of” (מִנְחַת), whose first and final letters also spell “dead” (מֵת). The middle letters in both words spell, “Noach” (נֹחַ) and “quiver” (רַחַשׁ). Noach was a righteous man in his generation, and as such is like the “living organ” (the organ of procreation) that entered the ark to escape the death raging outside. The sum of “Noach” and “Quiver” (נֹחַ רַחַשׁ) is “Mashiach son of Joseph” (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן יוֹסֵף), suggesting that this “quivering of life” inside death is like the King Hadar, the eighth king of Edom, who externally seems to have died—as mentioned explicitly in Chronicles[20]—but internally remains alive, as no mention of his death is found in Genesis.[21]

This analysis of the word for “deep frying pan” into life in death reminds us of the first appearance of an isomorphic word in the Torah, “hovering” (מְרַחֶפֶת), “And the spirit of God was hovering above the waters.”[22] The sages tell us that this spirit is the spirit of the Mashiach. The Kabbalists analyzed this word and found that the middle letters, רפח, refer to the 288 sparks of holiness that fell from the World of Chaos into the shattered dead vessels, and continue to quiver and stir within them, yearning for their rectification. When the “spirit of God” (רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים) whose value is 300, the value of the letter shin (ש) instead of the pei (פ) in “hovering” (מְרַחֶפֶת), it transforms into the word for “a deep pan” (מַרְחֶשֶׁת).

Amazingly, “hovering”—which indicates the holy spark alive within the dead vessel—is the 18th word from the Torah’s start, and 18 is the value of “alive” (חַי).

This phenomenon of life within a dead shell is well-known from other Hebrew words. Regarding the “half of a shekel” (that it is customary to give in the month of Adar), we find that the word “half of” (מַחֲצִית) also has “dead” (מֵת) on the outside, with “life” (חַי) on the inside, surrounding the letter tzaddik (צ). This is understood homiletically to mean that when the Jewish people connect to the tzaddik and give “half of” a shekel donation, then they are granted life. “You who cleave to Havayah your God are all alive today.”[23]

A similar teaching is found regarding the word “Your doorposts” (מְזֻזוֹת) or Mezuzot—the plural form of mezuzah. The first and last letters again spell death, but this time we add the fourth letter to spell “death” (מָוֶת), and the remaining letters spell “moves” (זָז). The understanding is that the death lurking outside moves and does not enter the house thanks to the mezuzah that has written on it the Name Shakai, the Name corresponding to the sefirah of foundation and to the “living organ” (as in Noach, above), the organ that gives life. Without moving itself, the mezuzah moves death and so it is described as the “the unmoved mover” (כֹּחַ הַמֵּנִיעַ הַבִּלְתִּי מִתְנוֹעֵעַ).

Likewise, the deep frying pan, externally represents the sefirah of understanding, from whence harsh judgments emanate leading eventually to death. But the life within the pan caused by the quivering deep oil, which corresponds to the sefirah of wisdom, ensures that there will be abounding life.



וְסָמַ֤ךְ יָדוֹ֙ עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ קָרְבָּנ֔וֹ (ויקרא ג, ב)

“He must place is hand upon the head of his sacrifice…” (Leviticus 3:2)

Fourth Reading: The Beginnings of Dispute

The Secrets of the Torah and the Beginnings of Dispute

In our discussion of how synthesis works, we mentioned that synthesis is related to the “Workings of the Chariot” (מַעֲשֵׂה מֶרְכָּבָה), the general name given to the Torah’s inner dimension, and the numerical allusion is that this phrase has the same value as “right-left-center” (יָמִין-שְׂמֹאל-אֶמְצַע), which captures the dynamic between the thesis, anti-thesis, and synthesis. All disputes can be seen as thesis and anti-thesis, so disputes are intrinsically related to the Torah’s inner dimension. Where do we find an explicit connection between the two? In the first two mishnayot of the second chapter of tractate Chagigah, the chapter that is known by its first two words, “Ein Dorshin.” They read as follows,

One may not expound on the [Torah’s] forbidden sexual relations before three (or more) individuals; nor on the Accounts of Creation before two (or more) individuals; nor on the Workings of the Divine Chariot before even a single individual unless that individual is wise and understands on his own. Whoever looks at four matters, it would have been better for him had he never entered the world: What is above? What is below? What was before? And, What will be after? And anyone who has no concern for the honor of his Creator, deserves to have never come into the world.

Yosei ben Yo’ezer says “The hands should not be placed” [on the head of the animal sacrifice before slaughtering it]. Yosef ben Yocḥanan, says “The hands should be placed.”

Yehoshua ben Peracḥyah says “The hands should not be placed.” Nitai HaArbeli says, “The hands should be placed.”

Yehuda ben Tabbai says “The hands should not be placed.” Shimon ben Shetacḥ says, “The hands should be placed.”

Shemayah says, “The hands should be placed.” Avtalyon says “The hands should not be placed.”

Hillel and Menacḥem did not disagree. Menacḥem left and Shammai took his place. Shammai says, “The hands should not be placed.” Hillel says, “The hands should be placed.”

The first [member of each pair] served as Nasi, and their counterparts served as heads of the court.

The first mishnah speaks about the Working of the Chariot and is the only mention of this topic in the Mishnah.[24] The second mishnah describes the history of disputes about law within the people of Israel. A connection that could not be more explicit.

The First Dispute

In the first pair, Yossi ben Yoezer and Yossi ben Yochanan, the first Yossi says that it is forbidden to place the hands on the sacrifice on a Yom Tov (one of the three festivals and Rosh Hashanah) and the second Yossi says that it is permissible. In the early generations, there was no substantial dispute that could not be resolved in the Sanhedrin, apart from this law, whether placing the hands on an animal offering on Yom Tov is permissible.

What does placing the hands on the neck of the sacrifice mean? When bringing a sacrifice to the Temple, the person bringing it places his hands upon the head of the sacrifice. He must place both his hands upon it with all his strength.[25] If the sacrifice is for atonement, then while his hands are placed on the head, he must also confess. This is a commandment in the Torah, at the beginning of the Book of Leviticus.[26]

The question of whether it is permissible to do so only refers to Yom Tov because on Shabbat, the question is moot. After all, there are no personal sacrifices brought on Shabbat, nor are free-will offerings brought. But, on Yom Tov it is permitted for an individual to bring a sacrifice.

What is the problem with placing the hands on the sacrifice’s head? Why would it not be allowed on a Yom Tov?

Apparently, the problem is that doing so makes use of an animal.[27] We see that the primary essential problem on which the sages disagreed is related to the use of animals; it is related to the relationship between humans and animals, a relationship that is captured to a degree in the verse, “You [God] shall save a man and an animal.”[28] According to Maimonides,[29] there is also the additional issue of excessive effort on Yom Tov. In any case, contemporary scholars prove that the main issue is only the use of animals.

Several commentators[30]  explain the spiritual reason that the first dispute is about the placing of the hands. The same word that means, “placing of the hands” (סמיכה) also refers to the ordination of sages, from a master to his disciple. Thus, the question becomes: Is it permissible to receive ordination on Yom Tov?

What is the connection between an animal sacrifice and the ordination of a sage? The Ramban,[31] Nachmanides, explains that a sacrifice takes the place of the person bringing it. Thus, if a person does not have the correct intention when preparing the sacrifice, thinking that the sacrifice is me—that really, they should have been slaughtering me for atonement—then the sacrifice is incomplete.

In passing, let us mention that perhaps this is why we do not have sacrifices today. Perhaps nowadays people are not able to experience the intention that when I bring a sacrifice, it is I, myself, that is being sacrificed.

Given that this is the intent in bringing a sacrifice, what does placing the hands on the animal’s head and pushing down symbolize? Why is it so important?

Nachmanides explains that placing the hands is an act of infusing my soul into the animal—placing myself within the animal. Obviously, there can be no more intense use of an animal than this. It is an important mitzvah to insert myself into the animal. Now, when the animal is about to be slaughtered, I will experience that it is I that is being slaughtered. I won't just feel it, it will happen.

This is the benefit of building a Temple and bringing sacrifices. If you want to advocate for having a Temple, you need to understand the reasoning behind it.

In light of this idea, the entire Temple is a unification of “man and beast.” The beasts, the animals, are given the opportunity to do good for man, by being offered in his stead.

Now we somewhat understand what the first dispute was about: Is it permissible to infuse oneself into an animal on Yom Tov or not?

Returning to ordination, it is easy to understand that ordination accomplishes the same thing. The Rabbi who gives ordination to his disciples imparts of himself, he transfers himself, and infuses his essence, into his disciples.

This is why ordination in ancient times was performed despite being many times an act of self-sacrifice, as recounted in the Talmud[32] about ordination during times of decree. It is an act of giving oneself that has almost no equal. When a Rabbi performs ordination, a true Rabbi, just as Moses ordained Joshua,[33] it is like infusing himself into his successor. And like ordination to the rabbinate, ordination upon an animal in the Temple is to infuse oneself within it.

(From a class given on 1 Tamuz, 5779)



דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל לֵאמֹר֒ נֶ֗פֶשׁ כִּֽי־תֶחֱטָ֤א בִשְׁגָגָה֙… אִ֣ם הַכֹּהֵ֧ן הַמָּשִׁ֛יחַ… וְאִ֨ם כָּל־עֲדַ֤ת יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ יִשְׁגּ֔וּ… אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָשִׂ֖יא יֶֽחֱטָ֑א… וְאִם־נֶ֧פֶשׁ אַחַ֛ת תֶּחֱטָ֥א בִשְׁגָגָ֖ה מֵעַ֣ם הָאָ֑רֶץ (ויקרא ד, ב־כז)

“Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43)

Fifth Reading: Inner Process of Sin and Rectification

The Torah’s treatment of the sin offering consists of a general principle and four specific cases. Firstly, there is a general heading: “If a person sins unintentionally by violating any of God's commands that should not be broken, and then violates any one of them.”[34] Following the opening statement, the Torah lists four specific sinners:

  1. “If it is an anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people.” This refers to a High Priest who has sinned and is required to bring a bull for a sin offering (when he errs in a ruling and performs an action according to his own judgment).
  2. “Or if the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally.” This refers to a Sanhedrin (the highest court) that erred in a ruling and the majority of the congregation acted according to their incorrect ruling, then it is the Sanhedrin that must bring a bull for a sin offering. This bull is known as the “bull of an unwitting communal sin.”
  3. “When a Nasi [a king] sins unintentionally.” When the king sins, he is required to bring a male goat for a sin offering.
  4. “If any member of the community sins unintentionally,” referring to an individual's unwitting sin, for which he must bring a female goat or a lamb.

Four Levels in the Soul

Our teacher, the Ba’al Shem Tov, taught that everything in the Torah relates to every individual, in every place, and in every time period. Accordingly, we must interpret the inner meaning of the paragraphs describing the sin offering for us. Each person has within their soul a general principle that corresponds to the initial general introduction to this topic, and sparks of the High Priest, of the Sanhedrin, and of the king; and in addition, he is also an individual Jew alluded to in the simple meaning of the verses under the general title “If a person sins,” hence all four categories are to be found within the soul of each person.

We can understand the universality of the four categories of people that permeate every one of our souls by looking at them as a psychological process that accompanies every unintentional sin. This psychological process begins from the general point that dwells in me, continues with the High Priest within me, the Sanhedrin within me, the king within me, and finally down to the simple person. These four, or five levels correspond to the Name of God, Havayah (which has 4 letters) together with the tip of the yud:

The source and root are found in the essence of the soul and correspond to the words, “If a person sins.” At this level, the relationship between the individual and God needs to be one of absolute nullification, and the transgression begins with a slight imperfection. This level corresponds to the tip of the yud in God’s essential Name, Havayah, and to the sefirah of crown.

The priests in general are the teachers of the Torah, and the High Priest is the chief instructor whose role is to teach the Torah with Divine inspiration. Another role of the High Priest is to be in the Temple, to pray for all of Israel, and to bless them. In the psyche, the beginning of sin is within the High Priest within me. I am not sufficiently connected to the whole, I do not pray enough for everyone, I do not bless them as I should. This level corresponds to the letter yud in God’s Name, Havayah, representing the sefirah of wisdom. The inner experience of wisdom is self-nullification. The power of self-nullification provides proper inspiration that leads to proper instruction, and from it stems the caring connection to all, and the ability to evoke abundant mercy and blessing.

The next level of error is within the Sanhedrin. In the psyche, the Sanhedrin is the judicial system, determining for myself and others the difference between right and wrong. This level corresponds to the first hei in God’s Name Havayah, representing the sefirah of understanding. After the blemish in self-nullification in the intellectual power of wisdom, there is to be found a lack of proper judgment on the left side, the intellectual power of understanding (the analytical mind). These two levels, the anointed High Priest (הַכֹּהֵן הַמָּשִׁיחַ) and the entire congregation of Israel (כָּל עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל), referring to the Sanhedrin, as in the verse above, correspond to the letters yud and hei, and thus reflect the “hidden things” that are the domain of God, i.e., Havayah. The value of these two phrases together is the product of “grace” (חֵן) and Havayah (י-הוה).

The next level is the king. Everyone has a leadership role in relation to others, and that is his sovereignty in life. The role of leadership is to determine what and who to bring close and what to keep away, and if one errs in this regard, it is a reason for sin. This level corresponds to the letter vav in the God’s Name Havayah, representing Ze’ir Anpin—the small countenance, which is often referred to as malka, meaning, “king.” Regarding the king’s leadership, it is said, “One person he raises, another he takes down,” referring to the practical leadership that “pushes away with the left and draws near with the right.” The primary role of the king is to go out to war, and for this, a lot of careful consideration is needed, especially in instances when the king conducts a voluntary war meant to expand the borders of the kingdom, or for the honor of the king himself. A mistake in judgment affects all of Israel!

In the soul, wars are battles against the evil inclination (and all methods of battling the evil inclination and rectifying the soul belong to the intellect of Ze’ir Anpin). Regarding the king, it is written, "When a leader sins" ("אֲשֶׁר נָשִׂיא יֶחֱטָא")— the first letters of which spell “I” (אֲנִי). The main error that causes a king to sin is that his ego takes over. The rectification is to be found in the trait of lowliness (שִׁפְלוּת). So too in rectifying the soul, various methods lead to missing the mark and sin by either fostering the ego in the worst case or in a less severe case, by ignoring the attribute of lowliness and making various 'compromises' that miss the mark.

The last level returns to the individual himself, ”one soul… from among the people.” Up to this point, there are three levels of responsibility towards others: 1) to be a High Priest, to teach Torah, to be involved with everyone and pray for everyone; 2) to be a judge, to judge correctly; and 3) to be a king, practical leadership. If there is sin, misguided actions, and error at these levels, it ultimately manifests in my personal sin. This level corresponds to the final letter hei in Havayah, representing the sefirah of “kingdom,” referred to as "I." The principle is reiterated, “But if one person sins,” and it is reflected in the individual soul. To rectify this state, a person must feel lowliness towards others (humility is the internal aspect of kingdom). Towards God, the work of nullifying being is essential.





וְסָמַךְ֙ אֶת־יָד֔וֹ עַ֖ל רֹ֣אשׁ הַֽחַטָּ֑את וְשָׁחַט֙ אֶת־הַ֣חַטָּ֔את בִּמְק֖וֹם הָעֹלָֽה (ויקרא ד, כט)

“He must place his hand on the sin-offerings and slaughter the sin-offering in the place of the burnt-offering.” (Exodus 39:43)

Sixth Reading: The Psychological Parallels of the Sacrifices

Psychological Parallels

The burnt offering, the olah and the sin-offering, the chatat represent, psychologically, two ways to come close to God: selflessness and lowliness, respectively.

The Torah portion of Vayikra delves into the realm of sacrifices. A sacrifice is not merely a technical act. It must be accompanied by deep introspection that leads to inner transformation. There is an individual requirement to confess even without offering a sacrifice.[35] Nonetheless, the commandments of teshuvah and confession appear concerning the sacrifices. Jewish law requires that together with the sacrifice, the sinner must repent, otherwise, it does not atone for the sin.

The words “sacrifice” (קָרְבַּן) and “coming close” (הִתְקָרְבוּת) are related to the same Hebrew root (קרב). God abhors a sacrifice that is not an expression of coming close to Him. The Prophets state: “‘Why do I need the profusion of your offerings,’ says God.”[36]

Every day we pray that the Temple services be reinstated. For the time being, we can occupy ourselves with the deeper significance of this service. By contemplating two different types of sacrifice, the olah (burnt offering), and the chatat (sin offering), we will see how this service is relevant to us today.

Burnt Offerings and Sin Offerings

Maimonides[37] enumerates four types of sacrifice: burnt offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, and peace offerings. The burnt offering and the sin offering are the two principal sacrifices that atone for sin. The guilt offering is a category of sin offering, and peace offerings are not sacrificed for atonement.

The most stringent punishment for any sin is the severance of the soul from its conscious connection to God. One example of a sin punishable by severance is desecrating Shabbat. The sinner is only liable to this penalty if he sinned intentionally. If someone unintentionally transgressed because, for example, he forgot that it was Shabbat, his soul will not be severed from its connection to God. Instead, he is obligated to bring a sin offering. A sin offering is an obligatory sacrifice offered after unintentionally transgressing a sin that is punishable by severance of the soul.

The Burnt Offering—Elevation and Nullification

A burnt offering also contains an element of atonement (therefore one must confess over it[38]). Nonetheless, this is atonement for subtler sins—such as not performing a positive commandment,[39] or for sins that an individual planned to do, but in practice, did not perform.[40] In either case, the sages define a burnt offering as a “contribution,”[41] as if the individual is presenting a gift to God. In contrast to a sin offering, a burnt offering can be offered electively.

As its name implies, the olah (עוֹלָה), the “burnt offering” is burnt completely. Psychologically, this represents the individual’s upward movement toward God, aspiring to the peak of selflessness. Striving to reach God, the individual's consciousness is elevated until it is integrated into His essence. By overcoming his innate egocentricity, the individual’s personality rises and is nullified at its Divine source. The ego has no existence of its own. Once it is nullified, the individual becomes aware that all that exists is Divinity.

The olah, the burnt offering, atones for sins that have no explicit atonement in the Torah. The sinner places his hands on the head of the animal before it is slaughtered and confesses his sin.

“God is strict with the righteous to a hair’s breadth.”[42] Even the greatest tzaddik (righteous individual) needs to atone for his sins. “There is no righteous individual in the world who does good and does not sin.”[43] Each time one reveals a flaw in one's actions, a subtler flaw is exposed. Whereas a regular person may elect to sacrifice a burnt offering for not wearing tzitzit, for example, a more righteous individual may choose to do so because he has not given generously enough to charity. A regular person might bring a burnt offering for not saying Kiddush on Shabbat, a righteous individual may do so for thinking an impure thought. Disciples of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk once found him doing heartfelt teshuvah (repentance) over the fact that when he was an infant, he bit his mother while she was nursing him.[44] The righteous individual’s upward trend towards selflessness is accompanied by his enthusiasm to contribute his entire being as a gift to God. The sages refer to the souls of the righteous as “the sacrifices of Israel” (אִשֵׁי יִשְׂרָאֵל).[45] Their souls are sacrificed on the altar on high.[46]

Blood from a sin offering is placed upon each of the four horns at the head of the altar. In contrast, blood from the olah (the burnt offering) is sprinkled at two points at the base of the altar. It is handled less than blood from a sin offering. Blood is “the soul” of the animal,[47] corresponding to the soul of the sinner. The entire offering is burnt on the altar, thus the blood too is nullified and included in Divinity. By identifying with his sacrifice, the soul of the sinner is rectified. His soul is burnt up in the love of God, as in the poignant words of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi,[48] “I will sacrifice my only soul to Him as an offering” (לְקָרְבַּן אַקְרִיב לוֹ אֶת נַפְשִׁי הַיְחִידָה).

The Sin Offering – Lowliness

King David said of himself, “I am lowly in my eyes,”[49] referring to his positive sense of lowliness towards God. Although lowliness is similar to selflessness, they are two different types of service. In some ways, they are opposites.

A selfless individual rises upwards, nullifying himself in God’s Divine light. He transfers his sense of existence to God and lives with a sense that God is close to him. In contrast, a lowly individual senses his distance from God and His light. Way down in the depths, he is well aware of the perils of his situation. He holds on by the skin of his teeth to prevent himself from sinning. Lowliness is existential dependence on God's great compassion and total reliance on His support. The lowly individual is shamefully aware of his own concrete existence. His awareness intensifies his sense of lowliness. The lowly individual is far removed from the sublime ideal of selflessness.

Plummeting into the abyss by unintentionally profaning the Shabbat, for example, triggers a sense of lowliness in the soul. It comes with the realization that had I been sensitive enough and sufficiently nullified to God, I would never have sinned. The very fact that the sin was unintentional testifies to how truly distant I am, so much so that I sinned because of a lack of attention. If it had been truly important to me, it would never have happened! The obligatory sin offering is an expression of my lowly state.

In contrast to the burnt offering, only certain limbs of the sin offering are burnt on the altar. This reflects the sinner's sense that the sin separates between him and God. The sacrifice is an appeal for atonement. “Blood is the soul,” with which I sinned by not supervising the minutiae. Atonement comes by paying special attention to the blood, the life-force of the sacrifice.

Lowliness reflects the consciousness of the month of Tishrei, when we are preoccupied with repenting for our sins. The most sacred sin offering is offered on Yom Kippur. Blood from the Yom Kippur sin offering is brought directly into the Holy of Holies.

The service of lowliness reflected in the sin offering has a certain advantage over the service of selflessness, the burnt offering. Lowliness exposes my essential, existential dependence on God. Identifying with the sin offering penetrates the innermost depths of the soul, to refine my deepest flaws.

In the order of the Torah portions, parashat Vayikra is always read in proximity to Rosh Chodesh Nisan. The first sacrifice detailed in the parashah is the burnt offering. During the month of Nisan, we are liberated from the straits of Egyptian bondage. It is a time of renewal and redemption, when we can escape the evil inclination that constricts our souls. In Nisan we aspire to become righteous individuals whose souls are on fire for God, sacrificed on the altar, Heavenwards. On the first day of Nisan, after the dedication of the Tabernacle, Moses relayed the portion referring to the burnt offering to the Jewish People.


(Translated and adapted from the article “Two goats” in Tom Vada'at)




וַיְבָ֥רֶךְ אֹתָ֖ם מֹשֶֽׁה (פקודי לט, מג)

“Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43)

Seventh Reading: Finding Order in Chaos

English Text טקסט עברית
English Text טקסט עברית
English Text טקסט עברית
English Text טקסט עברית


(from a shiur given on 18 Adar 5773)


[1]. Leviticus 1:2-3.

[2]. Ezekiel 20:32-3.

[3]. Adam brought a sacrifice to atone for his sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge (see Avodah Zarah 8a and Shabbat 28b). Since

[4]. See Vayikra Rabbah 2:7.

[5]. Psalms 36:7. See more on this in the article on the fourth reading in this issue.

[6]. Chullin 5b.

[7]. Psalms 73:22.

[8]. Numbers 19:14.

[9]. Leviticus 13:2.

[10]. Psalms 36:7. See more on this in the article on the fourth reading in this issue.

[11]. Numbers 19:14.

[12]. Psalms 36:7. See more on this in the article on the fourth reading in this issue.

[13]. See the article on the fourth reading in this issue.

[14]. Exodus 18:19.

[15]. 2 Chronicles 13:5.

[16]. Here and in Leviticus 7:9.

[17]. Psalms 45:2.

[18]. Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, Mafte’ach HaRaayon, tav.

[19]. Job 4:21.

[20]. 1 Chronicles 1:51. Here he is called Hadad.

[21]. Genesis 36:39.

[22]. Ibid. 1:2.

[23]. Deuteronomy 4:4.

[24] In tractate Megillah 4:10 we find a dispute regarding the haftarah in the merkavah.

[25] Chagigah 16b.

[26] Leviticus 1:4: “And he shall place his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.”

[27] Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura, Tosfot Yom Tov and Tiferet Yisrael. Also see tractate Beitzah 2:4 and additional commentators.

[28] Psalms 36:7.

[29] In his commentary on the Mishna, “Perush Hamishna.”

[30]. See for example Yismach Moshe, end of Vayeira.

[31] Nachmanides on Leviticus 1:9: It is more fitting to listen to the reasons they provide, for as human actions culminate in thought, speech, and action, God commanded that when one sins, he should bring a sacrifice. He is to lay his hands upon it, corresponding to his action, confess with his mouth, corresponding to his speech, and burn upon the altar the sacrifice and the organs, which are the vessels of thought and desire, corresponding to his hands and feet that perform all his work. He is to sprinkle the blood upon the altar corresponding to his blood, his life. This is so that a person will consider, as he performs all these actions, that he has sinned against his God with his body and his soul, and it is fitting that his blood be spilled and his body burned were it not for the mercy of the Creator, who accepted payment from him and atoned through this sacrifice, so that the animal’s blood stands in place of his blood, his soul in place of his soul, and the organs of the sacrifice in place of his own. Some portions are designated to be consumed by the priests, who pray for him and offer the daily sacrifice, so that the multitude may not profit from constant sinning. All these matters are accepted and draw the heart, like the words of agadah.

Image by Rupert Kittinger-Sereinig from Pixabay

[32] Sanhedrin 14a.

[33] Numbers 27.

[34]. Leviticus 4:2.

[35]       See Maimonides Hilchot teshuvah 1:1.

[36]       Isaiah 1:11.

[37]       In his introduction to his commentary on Seder Kodashim.

[38]       Maimonides, Hilchot ma'aseh hakorbanot 3:14.

[39]       Rashi, Vayikra 1:4.

[40]       Nachmanides, Vayikra 1:4.

[41]       Zevachim 7b.

[42]       Baba Kama 50a.

[43]       Ecclesiastes 7:20.

[44]       Divrei Chayim for Shabbat Shuvah.

[45]       Amidah prayer.

[46]       Menachot 110a and Tosafot ad loc.

[47]       Deuteronomy 12:22.

[48]       In his poem, בִּלְבָבִי מִשְׁכָּן אֶבְנֶה.

[49]       2 Samuel 6:22.

Related posts

Guarding the Covenant in the Modern World: Part 2

Gal Einai

The Kingmaker: the Wondrous Foresight of Rebbe Aharon of Belz

Gal Einai

Erasing the Doubt in our Hearts

Gal Einai
Verified by MonsterInsights