Seder Vayikra

Seder Vayikra [the first of the 10 weekly portions of Leviticus] opens with a statement that causes us to ask a question: “Who?” By saying “And he called,” we must discover who called. “And he called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from [within] the Tent of Meeting and said…” The verse [pasuk in Hebrew] quickly reveals the Who, and that Who is G-d. Ramban is quick to take note that as the book of Exodus closes, no one is able to be in the Tent of Meeting because the presence of G-d descended upon it and there was no room for anyone else. Therefore, Hashem had to call Moses back to the tent in order to converse and to continue the instruction.

Our Rabbis point out that all communication that came to Moshe from Hashem – whether initiated by the word speak [devar], say [emor], or tzav [command or instruct], these are all preceded by a call. From Exodus 3:4, through this verse, and up to the last command, Hashem calls “Moshe Moshe,” and Moses replies, “Hineni,” [Here I am].

In our text today, Torah introduces us to the responsibilities taken when sacrifices are offered at the altar.


The first offering introduced by the text is the Olah. The whole-burnt offering comes in four forms:

  • From the cattle: a male [Leviticus 1:3-9, b.Zevachim 34a[1]], is used by the richest among the Children of Israel.
  • From the flock: a male [Leviticus 1:10-13], is used by the middle class.
  • From the fowl: a [mature] turtledove or young dove [Leviticus 1:14-17, b.Chullin 22a, b.Zevachim 65a[2] 65b[3]], is used by the poor.
  • From the grain: wheat flour specifically [Leviticus 2:1-13], is used by the destitute. This offering is called Minchah in Hebrew. The grain offering is further broken down into four sub categories:
  1. Oven-baked loaves with oil mixed prior to baking [Lev 2:4, b.Menachot 55a, b.Pesachim 36a].
  2. Oven baked wafers with oil smeared on after baking [Lev 2:4].
  3. Pan-baked meal cakes fried in oil until crispy [Lev 2:5-6].
  4. Deep-pan meal caked fried in oil but remaining soft [Lev 2:7-8, b.Menachot 74b].

This is a sacrifice that is brought by someone who intentionally sinned for which Torah doesn’t prescribe a punishment. It’s also used for those who fail to perform a positive commandment. This is the sacrifice brought by everyone who comes to Jerusalem during the three high-holy seasons [Passover, Shavuos, and Sukkot]. The daily sacrifice is an Olah.

  • English Translations for Olah: elevation offering, near offering, whole offering, whole burnt offering, holocaust offering, offering up, or a sacrifice to please Me
  • Personal Responsibilities: Leviticus 1:3-17, b.Menachot 93a-b & b.Kiddushim 41b[4], b.Menachot 21a[5]
  • Kohan Responsibilities: Leviticus 6:8-23, b.Yoma 21b


  • English Translations for Minchah: grain offering, meal offering, meat offering (in the KJV), tribute, gift, flour offering, cereal offering, or a sacrifice to give thanks to G-d
  • Personal Responsibilities: Leviticus 2:1-8, 11-13, b.Menachot 58a & b.Pesachim 43b[6]
  • Kohen Responsibilities: Leviticus 2:9-10, b.Kiddushin 36a & b.Menachot 61a[7]


The shelamim is a voluntary offering brought by those moved by love and gratitude to Hashem. Its main purpose is to enhance the person’s closeness [kavanah] to G-d.

  • From the cattle, a male or female [Leviticus 3:1-5]
  • From the sheep flock, a male or female [Leviticus 3:6-11]
  • From the goat flock, a male or female [Leviticus 3:12-15]

Sforno says the shelamim is brought as a tribute to G-d when the person recognizes Hashem’s goodness. Ramban derives the word Shelamim from shelamot [perfect, uncut, or wholeness – taken from Deuteronomy 27:6] because the sacrifice is brought in order to bring peace into the world, harmonizing justice and mercy. There are

  • English Translations Shelamim: peace offering, shalom offering, wholeness offering, shared offering, fellowship offering, thanksgiving offering, heave offering, a sacrifice of well being; a slaughter meal of shalom; or a sacrifice to ask Hashem’s blessing
  • Personal Responsibilities: Leviticus 3:1-17
  • Kohen Responsibilities: Leviticus 7:11-36, b.Zevachim 55b


The Chattat is designed to be the vehicle for G-d’s forgiveness of unintentional sin.

  • For sins performed by the Kohen Gadol [high priest], he brings a young bull [Leviticus 4:3-12, b.Horayot 6b-11b]
  • For sins performed by the entire assembly of Israel, they bring a young bull [Leviticus 4:13-21, b.Horayot 3b]
  • For sins performed by the rulers of Israel, he brings a male goat [Leviticus 4:22-26, b.Zevachim 41b & 53a]
  • For sins performed by an individual Jew, he or she brings: either a female goat [Leviticus 4:27-31] or a female sheep [Leviticus 4:32-34]
  • For unauthorized use of sacred property, male goat or sheep [Leviticus 5:14-16]
  • For sins fitting in the “miscellaneous” or “in case of doubt” category, male goat or sheep [Leviticus 5:17-19]
  • The Korban Olah veyared is a rather novel kind of Chattat: a sacrifice based upon what the guilty party can afford. The guilty one, after confession and reparations, provides a sacrifice as per his financial abilities. Torah specifies [1] a female sheep or goat, [2] two [mature] turtledoves, [3] two young doves, or [4] a tenth-ephah of fine flour without oil. The following conditions force the use of a korban olah veyared:
    1. denying testimony [Leviticus 5:1, b.Shevuot 31b-33b]
    2. contaminating himself with a contaminated item or animal carcass [Leviticus 5:2-3]
    3. falsely swearing or failing to keep oaths [Leviticus 5:4]

For intentional sin, the Rabbis agreed that only with repentance and a change in attitude would G-d remedy the sin forgiven.

  • English Translations: sin offering, ignorance offering
  • Personal Responsibilities: Leviticus 4:1-35
  • Kohen Responsibilities: Leviticus 6:24-30, et al


The Asham, on the surface, seems like just another Chattat offering, but their procedures, the cost, and the implication of their names reveal them too varied; therefore, they must not be classified as one and the same. Ramban comments that the word Chattat implies “error” [velo yechati = “and not miss” in Judges 20:16] while Asham indicates “guilt” or “desolation” of the perpetrator. The Rabbis agree that only with repentance and teshuvah [a change in attitude] will G-d forgive intentional sin.

  • English Translations: guilt offering, variable offering, reparation offering, trespass sacrifice, repayment offering, penalty offering, or the sacrifice to make things right
  • Personal Responsibilities: Leviticus 5:14-26, b.Shevuot 36b, b.Bava Batra 88b, b.Bava Kamma 66a 93b 110a
  • Kohen Responsibilities: Leviticus 7:1-10, b.Zevachim 64b

[1] Not just any kosher animal will provide atonement

[2] The nipping is done only on the top of the altar

[3] How the fowl is dismembered prior to sacrifice

[4] A proxy cannot be used

[5] Why salt is excluded from blood sacrifices

[6] Why leavened and honey are excluded

[7] Only the sons of Aaron, not the daughters

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