Messianic Education Trust
(Lev 1:1 - 5:26(6:7))

Vayikra/Leviticus 1:5   And he shall slaughter the bull before the L-rd; and the sons of Aharon, the priests, shall bring the blood ...

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

As we move into the third major division of the Torah, we once again come face to face with the realities of animal sacrifice and all the trauma - at least for some - that entailed. Our text describes one of the steps in the ritual of making a burnt offering upon the altar before The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem. A simple, plain reading of the first two paragraphs in the parasha (Vayikra 1:1-9) shows us that two distinct parties have a symbiotic1 relationship in this ritual: the individual bringing the offering and the priests who facilitate the offering.

Step Verse Individual Priests
12 Choosing and dedicating the animal for the sacrifice
23 Bringing the animal into the sanctuary, to the door of the Tent of Meeting
34 Identifying with the animal by laying a hand on its head
45 Slaughtering the animal before the L-rd
55 Receiving the blood; dashing it on the sides of the altar
66 Flaying the carcass to remove the skin and cutting the carcass into pieces
77 Setting fire on the altar and arranging the wood
88 Arranging the pieces of carcass on the burning wood
99 Washing the legs and entrails
109 Burning everything on the altar as a burnt offering

Sadly, the NJPS and NRSV translate the action verbs in verses 5, 6 and 9 (here joined by the NLT) in the passive voice, thus obscuring the active "and he shall" voice of the Hebrew text which is preserved by the other major English translations (ESV, NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, NJB, etc.). This is a deliberate translation decision, since the active forms of the verbs - (slaughter), (flay), (divide, cut in pieces) and (wash), respectively - show the dual role and participation throughout the process, while a passive voice denies the individual's role and devalues the sacrifice experience, making it into a spectator sport with the priests as the sole functionaries. It seems clear that both the individual bringing the offering and the priest are essential to the process; if either is absent, the offering cannot take place.

While Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra appears to agree with the passive translations, claiming that "the bull is slaughtered by the priest", Don Isaac Who Is ...

Abravanel: Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508 CE), Statesman and biblical commentator; born in Lisbon, died in Venice; wrote commentaries on the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures
Abravanel completely disagrees, saying, "It seems to me that all aspects of the ritual not specifically reserved for the priests both may and must be performed by the person bringing the sacrifice." Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi affirm that the slaughtering is valid if done by one who is not a priest and Richard Elliott Friedman echoes that, writing: "The individual slaughters the animal; the priests handle the blood. This is consistent with the conception found elsewhere in the Torah that blood is sacred."

Who, then, could bring a sacrifice? In the wilderness, the courtyard of the Tabernacle - with the altar standing just in front of the door into the Holy Place, where only the priests could go - was open to all. Although the Hebrew texts of the Torah use male pronouns and the word iysh, 'man', when talking about sacrifices, this is a normal application of the language's grammar rules - that male means any combination of men and women, while female means exclusively women - and doesn't place any restriction on the gender of one bringing a sacrifice. Anyone could bring a sacrifice and participate equally in the ritual of slaughter and the burnt offering. Gunther Plaut reports that Ancient Near East texts and pictures portray sacrificial slaughter by women as well as men. The Second Jerusalem Temple appears to have taken a step away from gender equality in this respect, as the courtyards were arranged concentrically with the women's courtyard separated from the main altar by the men's courtyard.

Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch sees much more depth in the need for the offerer to slaughter their own sacrifice: "Sh'khiyta, slaughter, is the preliminary condition for the transition and entry into the sphere of the Sanctuary of the Torah. It is the giving up of the life that has hitherto been lived, the purely physical selfish existence. When the person who is seeking to get nearer to G-d has dedicated an animal, then sh'khiyta makes him realise what completely giving up his own life being lived for himself means. The can only be done in the Sanctuary and must be accomplished not the Sanctuary on the person, but by the person on themselves." This is an excellent insight, echoed by Rav Sha'ul - "I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of G-d, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, ESV) and hinted at by Yeshua when He said, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24, ESV). G-d does not impose this on us; we must impose it on ourselves when we accept Yeshua as our saviour and lord, so that "our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with" (Romans 6:6, NASB).

But let's take the issue of partnership one step further. We have seen that according to the Torah, the offering is a dual process by the offerer and the priest; the offerer does not just hand it over and leave it to the priest; he has an equal if not larger share of jobs to do." Although the Hebrews writer tells us that Yeshua "offered one sacrifice for sins for all time" (Hebrews 10:12, NASB, and that "through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all" (9:12, NASB), even Yeshua could not physically offer Himself as a sacrifice. The phrase "he offered Himself" (9:14, NASB) can only refer to the first three steps in the process above: selecting, bringing near, identifying: He selected Himself; he came up to Jerusalem and the Temple; He identified with us in human form and likeness. Yeshua needed partners to make the sacrifice happen; the High Priest or Chief Priests needed to be involved in the process, as indeed they were, the Romans actually carried out the crucifixion - the gospel records are quite clear. It was Caiaphas, the High Priest that year who prophetically recognised what was happening: "it is better for you that one man should die for the people" (John 11:50, ESV).

We too are in partnership with Yeshua in these matters. Without Him we cannot bring an offering; without us He has no offering to bring. Let's take a close reading of Rav Sha'ul's instructions that we should all be active in the bringing of sacrifices: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of G-d, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to G-d, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1, ESV). What is the key word here? It is 'present' - we are to "present our bodies". This is only the first step of the process; we cannot kill ourselves and then put our bodies on an altar - this is the work of the priest. And so it is: we present ourselves, we offer ourselves, our bodies, our lives to be living sacrifices; we need Yeshua, our High Priest, to take that spiritual sacrifice and to make the offering of our lives with His blood in the heavenly tabernacle. Without us, there is no sacrifice; we must be willing to lay down our lives - usually in a spiritual sense, though sometimes physically - for there to be a valid sacrifice. Without Him, to act as the High Priest, our sacrifice is not valid since we may not handle the blood or put the pieces on the altar.

Further Study: Romans 6:13; Galatians 5:24

Application: Do you know Yeshua as your High Priest, working with Him to bring an acceptable sacrifice? Get connected today to create a pleasing and acceptable aroma before our Father in heaven.

1. - symbiosis - [noun] - interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2010).

Comment - 07:01 11Mar18 Tim: The chart at the opening and the observation of the effect of changing from active to passive in the second paragraph bring home the depth of involvement of the worshipper in the process of sacrifice. The activity involved in all that process and the level of participation in the activity of the individual worshipper indicates the level of participation in the giving of heart and life to the Lord. I had someone in the congregation request recently that the congregation have more participation in the distribution of Communion in church only this last week. This drash is a spur to find a way to make that happen.

Buy your own copy of the Drash Book for Leviticus/Vayikra now at Amazon US or Amazon UK.

© Jonathan Allen, 2018

Messianic Trust Home Page Join Weekly Email More Weekly Drashot
Last Week Support the work of producing this weekly commentary
Next Week
Last Year - 5777 Scripture Index Next Year - 5779

Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?

Name Display my name ? Yes No
Email Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comments.
Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.