03/20/2012 11:51 am ET Updated Jun 08, 2012

Parshat Vayikra: Weekly Torah Portion Summary, Questions, Resources

Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week, which is found in the Book of Leviticus 1:1-5:26, and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Vayikra with interlinear Hebrew/English.

God calls affectionately to Moses, the humble leader, from within the Tent of Meeting, saying: "Speak to the Children of Israel. Tell them when someone voluntarily brings an offering to God, it should be a domesticated animal from the cattle and flocks." And God explains the specifics of each kind of sacrifice.

Burnt-offerings from cattle should be unblemished males. At the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, the offerer should rest his hands upon the head of the animal. The offering will atone for his sins. He may slaughter the animal, but the priests must perform the rest of the ritual: catching the blood; dashing some on the wall and four corners of the altar; skinning, washing and cutting apart the animal; arranging wood on the fire of the altar; making the offering go up in smoke with an intention that it should create a pleasing aroma for God.

Burnt-offerings from the flocks -- sheep or goats -- should be unblemished males brought to the north side of the altar. The priest should go through the same process as before.

Burnt-offerings from birds should be mature turtle doves or otherwise young doves. The priest should bring the dove near the altar, slitting its neck with a fingernail and squeezing the blod onto the altar. Removing its insides, the priest should make the offering go up in smoke with the intention that it should create a pleasing aroma for God.

Poor souls may bring a meal-offering to God of unbaked fine wheat flour. He may pour oil over it and place frankincense on part of it. The priest should scoop out three-fingers worth (leaving all the frankincense) and make this go up in smoke. The remaining flour and frankincense and oil belongs to the priests.

A baked meal-offering should be made of unleavened loaves of fine flour and oil or unleavened wafers smeared with oil. A meal-offering fried in a shallow plan should be unleavened and made of find flour and oil. A meal-offering fried in a deep pot should be made of fine flour and oil. The priest should take a three-finger scoop of this (including the frankincense) and make this go up in smoke with the usual intention. The remainder belongs to the priests. It is their most holy possession.

No meal-offering may be leavened or made with honey. However, figs and dates may be brought. And leavened loaves during the Festival of Weeks may be brought, too. But these should not go up in smoke. Every meal-offering and burnt-offering should be seasoned with salt because of the covenant made at creation.

Questions and resources:

Why does God call to Moses, waiting for a response, rather than just come right out with it? Why is the poor person who brings a meal-offering referred to here as a soul? How is it that bringing an animal to be sacrificed can atone for a person's sin?

Moses was incredibly humble, an unusual quality for such an important leader. For a poor person to bring even a small bit of flour is likened to sacrificing his soul. The animal brought by the sinner truly represented an aspect of that person, and offering it to God is like letting go of the ego and giving the person a clean slate.

The offering of the first fruits should be freshly harvested kernels of barley, dried in a fire, coarsely ground, covered in oil and frankincense and scooped by the priest. This is a fire-offering.

Peace-offerings from cattle should be unblemished male or females. After the offerer touches the head of the animal, the priests should slaughter it and put the blood on the altar. The fat from the intestines, stomach, kidneys and flanks, as well as the diaphragm and bit of the liver, should go up in smoke as a fire-offering.

Peace-offerings from sheep and goats should be unblemished male or females. The fire-offering from the sheep should be the tail, the fat of the stomach, kidneys and flanks, as well as the diaphragm and part of the liver. From the goat it should be the fat of the intestines, stomach, kidneys, flanks, as well as the diaphragm, a bit of the liver and the kidneys themselves.

You should not eat any of the above-mentioned fats. These are for God. This is an eternal law.

When a person sins unintentionally, he must bring a sin-offering. If a priests sins, bringing guilt upon the people, he must bring an unblemished, 3-year-old bull as a sin-offering. He should bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, lean his hands upon the animal's head and slaughter it. After bringing the bull's blood into the Tent, the priest should sprinkle some it seven times before God. He should place some blood on the horns of the incense altar. The rest of the blood should be poured on the base of the burnt-offering altar. He should remove the parts as in a peace-offering, and make them go up in smoke. The rest of the bull should be taken outside of the camp and burned completely.

If the Jewish judges collectively make a mistake in their rulings and the people did not detect the mistake, the congregation should bring a young bull as a sin-offering. The congregation and priests should follow the same procedures as before.

If a Jewish leader sins unintentionally, he should bring an unblemished male goat. If an individual sins unintentionally, he should bring an unblemished female goat or sheep. After the priest follows the usual procedures, the sin will be forgiven.

A person is guilty if he accepts an oath that he was not a witness when in fact he was a witness; if he touches something that is ritually impure (such as a carcass), even if he doesn't realize it at the time; or if he makes and oath and then breaks it after forgetting he made the oath. The guilty person should admit to his guilt and bring an offering to God. The guilt offering should be a female goat or sheep. If he cannot afford a goat or sheep, he should bring two doves -- one for the sin-offering and one for the burnt-offering. If he cannot afford two doves, he should bring one tenth of an 'ephah of fine flour. The priest will atone for his sin by following the procedures of a meal offering.

If a person sins unintentionally by improperly using Temple property, he should bring an unblemished, 2-year-old ram worth at least 2 silver Shekels as a guilt offering. The person must repay the what took, adding one-fifth of its values and giving this to the priest.

If a person is unsure that he has sinned, he is still guilty and should bring an unblemished ram to the priest.

If a person acts deceitfully concerning matters of money and others' property, once he knows that he has sinned, he should return the item or the money, adding one-fifth of the value to it. He should then bring a guilt-offering to God. The priest will make atonement for his sin and he will be forgiven.

Questions and resources:

Why should a person bring a guilt-offering without truly knowing if he's sinned? What does animal sacrifice have to do with Jewish practice today, if anything? What does "sacrifice" mean anyway?

We have to take responsibility for all of our actions. Bringing more mindfulness (and accountability) into our lives will ultimately help us and possibly save the world. Part of the transition from biblical to rabbinic Judaism included instituting prayer services modeled after the sacrifices. The word "sacrifice," in Hebrew, is related to bringing someone or something close.

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection: