Torah Portion: Vayikra (And He Called) Leviticus 1:1-5:26
HafTorah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23
Tonight we begin the third book of Torah. In English we call it Leviticus, a word coming from Greek and Latin and meaning, “Pertaining to the Levites.” By contrast, in Hebrew it is named Vayikra or “And He called.” Interestingly, this is the first book studied in religious elementary schools. In fact, even in Yeshua’s day, this would have been His first book of study.
If you have read the scripture for tonight you would have noticed that these first five chapters cover the law of sacrifices. We read what is to be brought for each one and how it was to be prepared. This might bring to our mind the question, “What does this have to do with us in our world?” Why spend time looking at this in today’s world? Let’s look at some ideas that might help us in this quest.
I would like to start with Leviticus 2:1 and see what we can discover. Here we read, “When anyone offers a grain offering.” In Hebrew it reads, “When a soul draws near to G-d to offer an offering.” What do we see in the word “soul” and “draws near to G-d?” First, the offering here is a “Minchah” offering, usually brought by the poor who could not afford even a bird. So first, we can see no mater how unworthy we feel or how low we have sunk, the Father is ready to meet us and bring us back to Him. He seeks our souls, not what we materially are or have, but first He seeks to re-establish that connection with our soul. All He is waiting for is for us to draw close to Him. He is waiting for us.
Also, this word for sacrifice in Hebrew is, “Korban” which means to draw close. So the point of the sacrifice was/is to draw us close to the Father, to be able to recognize we are not in that close relationship which will give us peace, for us that is accomplished still through a sacrifice, that being the Messiah Yeshua.
In Leviticus 1:2 we read, “When one of you offers a sacrifice to the L-rd.” Read correctly in Hebrew, it says, “when one offers a sacrifice of you.” The difference being that in the Hebrew, the meaning is clear for the whole sacrificial system. The essence of sacrifice is that we offer ourselves. We bring to G-d our everything, our energies, or thoughts, or emotions. The animal was only an external manifestation of an inner act – our soul our all being offered.
Shaul the Apostle mentions over and over in the scripture that our life consists of a day to day struggle between our flesh and our spirit or our soul. We share with animals that flesh drive to eat, drink and have shelter. Ecclesiastes 3:19 puts it well. However we are not simply animals. We can think, speak, communicate, and reach out to others. We are the only creatures that can ask, “Why?” We are not at the mercy of our biological drives alone. Psalms 8 expresses this very well. We unlike the other creatures have a soul. So the whole sacrifice system is pointed to offering that animal/flesh part of us on the altar.
If we look at the three things mentioned in Lev. 1:2 as things to be brought as Korban we can see how each represents a feature of our flesh. The first word, “Behemah” refers to domestic animals, animals that spend their life looking for food to survive. So to sacrificed that part of our flesh allows us to be moved by more than just mere survival or existence but to look for purpose in our life.
Bakar is the next word here translated as herd or cattle. Any of us who have watched western movies have seen scenes of cattle stampeding, trampling down fences or breaking through barriers. So to sacrifice that part of us would lead us to respect boundaries in our lives, holy and profane, pure and impure, permitted and forbidden, to shun things that are out side of the life of a believer.
Finally, “Tzon” is the final word and is translated as flocks. What is the main characteristic of herds? They follow the leader. They go along with the crowd even if it is off a cliff. We, on the other hand, are called to think for ourselves, not to be swayed by the newest fad to come along. So sacrifice teaches us to bring those qualities of the flesh to the altar, to come close to G-d and allow Him to transform us by the Divine fire from G-d. We can rise above just our animal desires and become what the Father has planned for us from the beginning. We can allow Him to reach in and touch us so we can come to the place of no longer being slaves to our flesh but servants of the living G-d.