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Vayikra/Leviticus 2:1 When a soul shall bring a grain offering to the L-rd, his offering shall be choice flour
Chapter 2 of parashat Vayikra describe the regulations for the grain offering thatHaShem gave Moshe for the priests to follow in their service in the sanctuary. The grain may be offered as uncooked flour, baked in an oven, fried on a griddle, as unleavened bread or as a whole grain offering of parched grains. All grain offerings must be seasoned with salt and, unlike the burnt offerings, only a memorial portion is actually burned on the altar, the balance being for the priest to eat. Four words in particular draw the attention of the commentators.
The first word of note is the first word in the verse: , here translated 'soul'. Coming from the root verb , "to respire, to take breath" (Davidson), the noun's meanings range from 'breath', 'person', 'soul' to 'life' and 'self'.Targum Onkelos changes to , the Aramaic voicing of the Hebrew , 'person', to avoid what Drazin and Wagner call "the post-biblical definition 'soul'", but Ibn Ezra tries to have it both ways: "a person - literally a soul. The word is appropriate," he says, "for the grain offering is not required but given willingly, and the soul too is referred to as willing", and points us to where the Psalmist says, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you" (Psalm 51:14, NLT).
The second word is the , a Hif'il prefix form from the root , "to come near, to approach." In the Hif'il voice, this verb means "to bring" or, as here, "to offer [a sacrifice]". However, the person-gender-number (the prefix pronoun) is ambiguous: either second person masculine singular, 'you' or third person feminine singular 'she'. This could therefore be speaking directly to an individual, "if you bring an offering ...", or about a class of person, "if she brings an offering ...". We cannot be sure. RabbiHirsch comments that "it is most significant that right from the beginning, minkhah is restricted to single individuals. Every offering, even a single dove, can be brought by two or more co-jointly. Minkhah alone is the exception inasmuch as the Torah excludes it from being brought in partnership by the word nefesh."
The third word is that used to describe the offering, . The etymology is not clear here. One option, suggested by Davidson, is the root , but that isn't used in the Hebrew Bible; it's Arabic equivalent means "to give", so corresponds to the meaning here of 'gift', 'tribute' or 'offering'. Hirsch suggests the alternative of the root , "to lead", so with a prefix to designated the place of the verb action or a tool to perform the verb action, this could be offering to accept or acknowledge HaShem's leadership. The latter might work for the grain offerings that accompany the morning and evening burnt offerings on behalf of the people, but the former seems the better option for individual Israelites. TheRashbam connects the noun with the preceding verb: "the Hebrew word minkhah really refers to a gift, something that is 'brought'." Gordon Wenham points out that "in non-religious usage, minkhah often means 'tribute', the money paid by a vassal king to his overlord (Judges 3:15, 17-18; 2 Samuel 8:6; 1 Kings 5:1[4:21], 10:25, 2 Kings 17:3). It may mean simply 'a present', though it frequently suggests that the giver is afraid of the recipient and that he is trying to ingratiate himself by means of the gift.. Thus Ya'akov sends a minkhah to his brother Esau (B'resheet 32:19 ff.) and later to his son Yosef, prime-minister of Egypt (43:11,15,25-26)."1
Finally, the fourth word is , the word describing the offering itself. Gunther Plaut prefers the translation "choice flour" to the more usual "fine flour".Rashi comments that "whenever 'fine flour' is mentioned in Scripture, it is always only wheat, as it says 'choice wheat flour' (Shemot 29:2, NJPS)." This word is important here as itself can refer to either animal or vegetable offerings - it is used for both Cain and Abel's offerings in B'resheet 4:3-5. Ibn Ezra tells us that this is "choice flour - pure, white flour, made from from wheat. An offering made to the One on high must naturally come from the finest kind of flour." Walter Kaiser reports that, "although it is made to G-d by fire, the grain offering never implies that a life is being given to G-d, as is true of the burnt offering. Also the grain offering does not require the laying on of hands, as the burnt offering does, for there is no idea of transfer or substitution. The dominant idea is that this is a gift to G-d from the produce of the soil - namely the inner kernels of the wheat grain."2
The ancient rabbis wrestled with how this verse was to be understood. Noticing that the word is only used with this type of offering, "Rabbi Yitz'khak said, Why is the grain offering distinguished in this way? Because the Holy One, Blessed be He, said, 'Who is it that usually brings a meal-offering? It is the poor man. I account it as though he had offered his own soul to Me'" (b. Menachot 104b). A story from the midrash supports this, pivoting off the 3fs possibility (see above) for the verb 'bring': "Once a woman brought a handful of fine flour, and the priest despised her, saying: 'See what she offers! What is there in this to eat? What is there in this to offer up?' It was shown to him in a dream: 'Do not despise her! It is regarded as if she had sacrificed her own life'" (Vayikra Rabbah 3:5). Rashi confirms that "'soul' was not used with reference to any voluntary offerings except the the the grain offering", explaining by asking, "Whose practice is it to dedicate a meal-offering? A poor person, because he owns no livestock." TheBekhor Shor takes this one devotional step further, reporting that "these are the holiest of offerings, though they are typically brought by the poor, and they were deliberately made the holiest of offerings to demonstrate the humility of the Holy One, a great King who loves the poor."
Wenham moves us further into devotional ground by noting that a grain offering was supposed to accompany burnt offerings for sin, by which the priest makes atonement for one who has sinned. He suggests that this is "a gift by the worshipper to G-d. G-d having granted forgiveness of sins through the burnt offering, the worshipper responded by giving to G-d some of the produce of his hands in the cereal offering. It was an act of dedication and consecration to G-d as Saviour and covenant King." This means that, "the cereal offering symbolised the dedication of a man's life and work to G-d. He brought his normal food to the priest and he declared his willingness to keep the law."3 This chimes with Baruch Levine, who says that "the term minkhah has an interesting history. It does not relate to the substances used in preparing the sacrifice. Its basic sense is that of 'tribute, gift.' Like many names given to sacrifices, the term minkhah was appropriated by priestly writers from the administrative vocabulary because it effectively expressed the subservient relationship of the worshipper towards G-d. At the same time, it conveyed the duty of the worshipper to present gifts to G-d, often in the form of sacrifices." This makes the grain offering both a response to G-d's forgiveness and grace, and a duty of service to G-d as part of an ongoing relationship.
How do we respond to the forgiveness we have been given in Messiah Yeshua? What is the appropriate response to G-d - what is our 'gift'? Paul seems in no doubt, as he wrote to the Romans: "I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of G-d's mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for G-d. This will please Him; it is the logical 'Temple worship' for you" (Romans 12:1, CJB). The writer to the Hebrews has the same opinion: "Through Him, therefore, let us offer G-d a sacrifice of praise continually. For this is the natural product of lips that acknowledge His name. But don't forget doing good and sharing with others, for with such sacrifices G-d is well pleased" (Hebrews 13:15-16, CJB). Sacrifice on our part, a sacrificial lifestyle where we put serving G-d - often in and through others - before serving ourselves, is a key part of how we should live. It is our natural response to G-d in Messiah Yeshua. Not earning our salvation or forgiveness, for this is impossible, it has already been done and given to us - "by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of G-d" (Ephesians 2:8, ESV) - but as our grateful acceptance of His gift of life and working it out in our daily lives as we become conformed to the image of Yeshua.
1. - Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), page 69.
2. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 535.
3. - Wenham, pages 71-72.
Further Study: B'Midbar 15:4-16; Psalm 69:30; 1 Peter 2:4-5
Application: How can you show your appreciation and response to G-d today for what He has done for you in Yeshua? What would be a suitable gift for you to offer Him? Why not ask Him what He would like and see how the Spirit guides you?
02:13 10Mar19 Paul Saputra: Great drash - very blessed!
08:32 14Mar19 Brian and Anne Nelson: I have always believed and been taught that obedience is better than sacrifice. Now, many years later, I am endeavouring to couch obedience in and through His Love, daily, by His Grace and Mercy alone. Of, and in myself I can do nothing. Blessed be The Name above all Names, Messiah Yeshua HamashiachUsercomment(10:03 22Mar19, AWBC, I think that minchah represents human response of gratitude to God's grace of forgivenss of his sins. Difference between Cain and Abel's offerings in B'resheet 4:3-5 comes from Cain's lack of thanks to God's mercy for him and Abel's gratefulness to the Lord. It means that Cain did not recognize himself as a sinner before the Lord. It is interesting that minchah represents both animal and grain offerings in B'resheet 4:3-5.)
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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