By Rabbi Yaakov Beasley – Yeshivat Har Etzion
At first glance, the first word of our parasha and sefer, “Vayikra”- “and He called,” seems almost anticlimactic. With the completion of the Mishkan’s construction in last week’s parasha, we would have expected the inaugural celebration. Instead, we are to wait several weeks (in the Torah readings) for the occasion. Almost impatiently, Hashem summons Moshe into the Ohel Moed. There are more laws to learn.
Precisely what laws Hashem taught to Moshe while he was in the Ohel Moed, as opposed to his sojourn on top of Har Sinai, was already a source of contention among the Tannaim:
R’ Yishmael holds that the general rules of the halakhot were said at Sinai, while the details of the halakhot were said at the Ohel Moed; R’ Akiva holds that both the general rules and the details were taught at Sinai, repeated at the Ohel Moed, and taught a third time at Arvot Moav. (Chagiga 6a)
Whether the Mishkan provided an opportunity for expanding upon what had already been taught, or simple review, we gain new insight into its purpose. A superficial reading of Sefer Vayikra would conclude that its purpose would be to outline the technicalities of the sacrificial cult. By beginning with “Vayikra”- “and He called,” the Torah emphatically argues otherwise. The Mishkan is nothing less than an extension of the relationship that began at Sinai. Communication with the Divine was not a one-time occurrence. As long as the Ohel Moed stood in the center of the camp, a connection between Heaven and Earth existed. For this reason, Rashi interprets our book’s opening words as follows:
Vayikra is the language of precious chibba – care and tenderness (commentary to 1:1)
This may explain another anomaly often overlooked. Looking back at Sefer Bereishit and Sefer Shemot, we find numerous references to sacrifices. However, never once are they referred by the Hebrew name “Korban.” Until now, the Torah described every mention of a sacrifice as a “Zevach” or “olot” or “shelamim” (see Noach and Har Sinai). Only in our book do we see the word “Korban.” According to the commentators, the difference is clear:
It is most regrettable that we have no word that really reproduces the idea that lies in the expression “Korban.” The unfortunate use of the term “sacrifice” implies giving up something of value to oneself for the benefit of another, or having to do without something of value, ideas not only entirely absent from the nature of “Korban” but diametrically opposed to it. In addition, the idea of an ‘offering’ presupposes a wish on the part of the one to whom it is brought … But the idea of “Korban” is far away from all this. It is used exclusively with reference with humanity’s relationship with Hashem, and can only be understood from the meaning that lies in its root, “K.R.V.” – to approach, to come near, to enter into a relationship. (R. Shimshon Refael Hirsch, opening to Sefer Vayikra)
Korban implies closeness (the root is K.R.V. – near); bringing things together … it engenders compassion, never harshness. That is why it is Korban L’Hashem, a gift to the name of Hashem. However, Zevach is brought to the name of God implying evaluation and judgment: “The Zevach of Elokim is a broken spirit; God will not mock a broken heart … (Tehillim 51:19)” (the Zohar)
With this distinction, we gain new insight into how our parasha orders the Korbanot. In Parashat Tzav, the Torah focuses on the varying levels of the sanctity of the Korban. The Korban Olah comes first, then the Korban Chatat, the Korban Asham, and finally the Korban Shelamim. We clearly see that those Korbanot offered entirely on the altar come first; those Korbanot where the service must be close proximity of the altar follow, and finally those whose consumption can occur anywhere within the sanctified areas come last. However, the order in our parasha reflects not the sanctity of the offering, but the desire that leads to its being brought. The complete gift, the Korban Olah, comes first. The Korban Shelamim, shared between the owner and Hashem follows. Finally, the parasha mentions the mandated Korban Chatat and the Korban Asham, which are never brought as gift.
The appearance of the bird offerings and the flour offerings at the end of Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2 supports this thesis. The interruption of the animal sacrifices with the Korbanot Of and Mincha led to the Abrabanel’s ninth question: “Why does the Torah discuss the laws of the Mincha in all its varieties prior to the Shelamim? After all, since the Shelamim is taken from the cattle or from the herds, we would have thought that it should be commanded prior to the Mincha.” However, if the order follows the level of closeness that the Korban symbolizes, then their appearance is fitting. Chazal, sensitive that these offerings reflected the poor economic circumstances of the person who offered them, confidently stated that their value lay far beyond their monetary worth:
If his Korban is a bird (1:14): Is there any smell that is more nauseating than that of burning feathers? Yet, you say that the Kohen shall bring it all upon the altar (1:17)?! The only explanation is that the beauty is found in a different way – it is beautiful with the offering of someone poor, who can afford no better … (Vayikra Rabbah 3:5)
If an individual soul presents a Korban Mincha (flour) … (2:1): Why does it mention here the ‘soul,’ only as regards the Korban Mincha? Because who is it that can only afford a Korban Mincha – the poor man. If he brings Me a gift, I regard it as if he has brought his very soul before me … (Rashi, quoting Menachot 104b)
The Korban of the poor man is the most important to the Holy One, Blessed be He, for that man is really bringing two gifts at once … [for beyond the bird/flour he is] offering the Holy One, Blessed be he his heart, his care, his spirit, his soul – And that is more precious – chaviv – than anything else imaginable. [the Zohar]
We have come full circle from the language of precious chibba that begins our parasha to the preciousness (chaviv) of the poor person’s offering. We see that our parasha is not a dry listing of sacrificial practices. Instead, our parasha conveys one steady theme – the closeness and proximity that we felt at Har Sinai has not been severed. The Korbanot offer humanity the ability to recreate the closeness and proximity. All that it requires is a willingness to offer that which is most valuable – oneself.