Parsha: Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26)
Vayyikra וַיִּקְרָא (“And He called out”) Leviticus 1:1-5:26
The parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Vayyikra, and it begins this, the third book of the Torah, which goes by the same name: Sefer Vayyikra, or in English, the book of Leviticus. Vayyikra is translated “And He called out”. The reading takes us from Leviticus chapters one through five. These chapters contain specific regulations about presenting korbanot – offerings to Adonai. Each chapter describes in detail a different type of offering. Detailed passages such as these in Leviticus are typically ignored or else read quickly and without much attention when people are reading through the Bible. But these details are significant, and should not be neglected. In many ways they foreshadow Messiah Yeshua’s nature, and the manner of His life and death.
Chapter 1 deals more generally with the קָרְבַּן עוֹלָה (olah) – the burnt offering as atonement for sin. The animal might be a young bull from the herd or a sheep or goat from the flock. Either way, it had to be a male without defect. If a person was too poor to offer something from the herd or flock, he had the option of offering either turtledoves or pigeons.
Chapter 2 concerns the מִנְחָה (minchah) – the grain or meal offering. The grain offering could be of the type that included fine flour, oil and frankincense offered up in smoke, described as a soothing aroma to the Lord. It could also be an offering of baked items like cakes, or cooked in a pan. But they all had something in common: salt. Salt was to season every grain offering (2:13). They also lacked something in common: leaven. Leaven was to be excluded from all grain offerings (2:11). It’s easy to understand – leaven is a symbol for sin; especially the sin of pride. Pride puffs us up, just as leaven puffs up a batch of dough. And just as leaven is mixed in a batch of dough and a small piece pinched off and put in the next batch, the leavening process shows us the generational perpetuation of sin in fallen mankind.
What is the significance of salt? Salt is vital to life in the arid Middle East, not only adding flavor to foods, but preserving them as well. It was quite common for gifts of salt to be exchanged in the making of ancient Near Eastern treaties and in the process of reconciliation between previously adversarial parties. Salt was a symbol of hospitality. Salt is also pure – it is nearly impossible for germs to survive in salt – which is where we get the expression “pouring salt on a wound”. Salt also helps heal. People will sometimes travel to far-flung, remote parts of the Earth in order to derive healing benefits from natural salt springs. You cannot even survive without salt! Remove all salt from your diet, and your body will begin to deteriorate, because sodium regulates the rate of assimilation of nutrients into your body at the cellular level.
In so many ways salt is symbolic of God’s nature: He is pure, He is precious, He is kindly and hospitable, He heals – even though sometimes the process itself may hurt. And you cannot live without God. In Him we live and move and have our very being. Salt dissolves in water, yet its quality remains – which is perhaps what Yeshua had in mind when He told us that we are the salt of the Earth. We are in the world, but not of it. We are to influence the world around us, yet not lose our saltiness.
Chapter 3 tells us about זבח שׁלם (sh’lamim) – peace offerings. A peace offering could be either from the herd or flock and if from the flock it could be a female or male. In chapter three we are commanded never to eat any fat or any blood from those offerings. We already know from Genesis chapter nine that God prohibited the consumption of blood because of its sacredness, containing in it the very substance of our life. It is for that same reason that there can be no atonement for sin without the shedding of blood – something we will revisit a few weeks from now, Lord willing, in chapter seventeen.
In chapter 4 we learn about the particulars of the חטּאת חטּאה (chatat) – the sin offering. There were more rituals involved in the sins offerings than in the others. It was to be a male bull, of course without defect, whether for an individual or the whole congregation of Israel. However, if a leader of the people sinned unintentionally, the offering was to be a goat, a male without defect. Under other circumstances, if an am haaretz (commoner) sinned, a female goat, also without defect, was acceptable as the sacrifice.
Chapter 5 informs us about the אָשָׁם (asham) – the guilt offering. The circumstances requiring these offerings might include coming in contact with something or someone who is unclean, an oath (whether good or bad) sworn thoughtlessly, refusing to testify in a legal case when you were a witness to a crime, or else sinning in some way unintentionally. This chapter makes clear that unintentional sins are no less demanding of atonement than willful, high-handed sins. God is holy, His righteous requirements inflexible. We cannot afford to lie to ourselves and presume that our good intentions render sin acceptable. We must still confess our sins to God and bring blood for atonement.
Let’s sum it all up. What do all these offerings have in common?
- Inevitably, one or more of them would be necessary for you. Every human being falls short and transgresses against a holy God. Every one of us needs atonement.
- Whether a bull, lamb, goat or ram, all offerings were to be of flawless animals – no defect!
- With the exception of the grain offerings, all involved the shedding of blood.
- Every blood offering involved the guilty human confessing his sin over an innocent animal.
- The offerings were always performed through the mediation of a priest.
- The carcasses of the sin offerings were always burned outside the camp (Lev. 4:11-12, 21).
- Every single offering in some way prefigured the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua!
What we have here is what Dr. Louis Goldberg, of blessed memory, called “The Exchange of Life Principle”. You, the guilty party, lay your guilty hands on the head of an innocent animal. In so doing your sin is symbolically transferred to that animal, and its innocence symbolically transferred to you. The animal (now bearing your guilt) is then put to death, suffering in your place. Just as those animals had to be without defect, Messiah Yeshua lived a perfectly sinless life. And the writer of Hebrews, the letter to the Messianic Jews, reminds us that just as the carcasses of those sin offerings were always burned outside the camp, so Yeshua suffered outside the camp. And if we will be His true followers, it will mean our going outside the camp, enduring ostracism, being despised, just as He was. We need to be open and up-front about our faith in Yeshua. If we are ashamed of Him He will be ashamed of us. If we confess Him before men, He will confess us before the Father, and personally welcome us into Heaven!
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Vayikra וַיִּקְרָא. Other transliterations: VaYikra, Va-yikra, or Vayyiqra