This week’s parasha is entitled, VaYikra, which means, “and He called.” It covers Leviticus, Chapter 1:1 – 6:7. In English, the name is Leviticus, and refers to the rules, regulations and duties that must be followed by the Levitical priesthood, the Levites, to atone for the sins of the people.
This parasha describes 5 types of offerings to be made upon the altar to God.
The Burnt Offering: In offering up an animal to the Lord for atonement of a sin, out of all the kosher types of animals, only 3 types were allowed to be used as a burnt offering upon the altar of the Lord: Oxen (either a bull or a cow), sheep (either a ram or a ewe) or a goat (either a buck or a doe). In the case of a burnt offering, the offering had to be a male, and it had to be an animal without defect. Leviticus, Chapter 1, speaks about each of these three animal groups.
Usually, when someone came before the Lord to make this sacrifice, it was because they needed to confess a sin. The person would lay their hands on the animal and confess that they deserved to die instead of the innocent animal, but in the Lord’s mercy, He had allowed the animal to be the substitute for the guilty party. When the Lord saw the blood of the slain animal and the smoke of the sacrifice, He forgave the sinner based on faith and repentance. If a person did not have the means to offer a bull, ram or male goat, then they could offer a turtledove, or a young pigeon, which were the only birds that were allowed to be offered as a sacrifice.
The Grain Offering: This offering had to be made of fine flour with oil and frankincense. It could not be offered up with yeast or honey. Yeast, is used as a symbol for sin, so it makes sense that nothing made with yeast could be offered up on the altar to the Lord. In addition, Chapter 2, verse 11 also tells us that honey was not allowed to be offered on the altar as well. Part of the grain offering was burned, but the remainder was given to Aaron and his sons for their consumption.
The Peace Offering: We need to look to Leviticus, Chapter 7 to learn that this offering is really a thanksgiving to the Lord. Someone who had experienced joy and wanted to thank the Lord for this blessing would bring a peace offering. This time, either male or female of the three categories of animals (oxen, sheep or goats) could be offered as long as the animal was free of defect. This offering became a contribution to the priests and needed to be eaten within three days of being prepared.
The Sin Offering: This is described in Chapter 4, verse 2 and involves sacrifices for anyone who sins unintentionally in any of the things which the Lord has commanded. It is interesting to note that there is no sacrifice for those who deliberately, or intentionally, sin against the Lord; provisions are only given for those who unintentionally break a commandment or regulation. Deliberate or intentional breaking of the Lord’s Word was punished by death. From Chapter 4, we get a sense that the higher up one was in terms of being able to understand the Lord’s commandments, or direction, the more responsibility there was. For example, if the High Priest or one of the Levitical priests were to unintentionally break a commandment and then realize this later, they were required to sacrifice a bull to atone for this error. Compared to that, however, if a common member of the Israelite community were to unintentionally sin, a female goat would be acceptable for the sacrifice.
The Guilt Offering: Some examples of when a guilt offering would be required are outlined in Chapter 5, such as when a person does not testify accurately to what they know, or if a person touches something that is unclean, or if a person swears thoughtlessly.
I would like to make several closing observations regarding our parasha for today:
First, these sacrifices were a visible system of accountability. The person who had committed the sin needed to provide an animal from their own flock and would visually see the blood being spilled, the innocent animal dying and the sacrifice being burned. The visual and personal nature of the sacrifice would certainly help bring home the importance of following God’s commandments.
Second, the sacrificial system took into account the means of the sinner. God did not say that everyone had to provide a bull as a sacrifice. For those who had the means, a bull would be acceptable, for those who had less, perhaps a sheep or a goat, and for those who had even less, a turtledove or a pigeon.
Third, the most important thing was the heart of those bringing the sacrifice. Their heartfelt confession and individual faith and belief in the atonement of the sacrifice and God’s mercy in accepting it was what really counted.
The sacrificial system went on for over 1,500 years. Sacrifices took place daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. No one was ever atoned for once and forever through the sacrificial system given by God to Moses. This sacrificial system was given to also point the Jewish people towards a day when there would be one final sacrifice, which would atone for the sins of true believers once and forever. That was the sacrifice that our Messiah made by dying on the Cross.
Messiah Yeshua is the final and ultimate sacrifice for the atonement of sins. We are forgiven because of what He did, and because we believe and put our faith in Him, and are covered by the blood of His atoning sacrifice.