- Parshas Vayikra 5763
- Rabbi Bernard Fox
"Speak to Bnai Yisrael and say to them the following:
When a person from among you offers a sacrifice to Hashem, if
it is an animal sacrifice, it should be taken from the cattle
or the flocks of sheep or goats." (VaYikra 1:2)
This passage introduces the Torah's discussion of sacrifices.
The midrash offers many important insights into the Torah's concept
of Divine service and the commandments regarding the sacrifices.
One of the most interesting insights is presented in connection
with our passage.
The midrash asks a question. Imagine a king served by two chefs.
The first prepares a dish for the king. The king eats the delicacy
and is pleased. The second chef also prepares a special dish
for his master. The king partakes of this second offering and
is also pleased. How can we determine which cuisine was most
appreciated? The midrash responds that we merely need to observe
the king's subsequent actions. The chef that is summoned to prepare
the next meal has won the contest. The king's choice indicates
The midrash explains that this simple story has an important
parallel. When Noach left the ark, he offered sacrifices. The
Torah tells us that the Almighty regarded these offerings as
"an appeasing fragrance." The sacrifices of Bnai
Yisrael are also frequently referred to as "an appeasing
fragrance." How can we determine which sacrifice is preferable?
The midrash responds that we must consider the Almighty's subsequent
actions. He commanded Bnai Yisrael in the laws governing the
Burnt offering the Olah. The Torah states, "This is the
law of the Olah.",  Through this command, Hashem indicated
that the sacrifices of Bnai Yisrael are preferred. The discussion
in the midrash continues. However, we will limit our analysis
to this portion.
The midrash asks a simple question. Which sacrifices are preferable,
those of Noach or those of Bnai Yisrael? The midrash compares
this question to the inquiry regarding the alternative dishes
prepared by two chefs. It is important that we understand this
analogy. The analogy allows us to accurately define the midrash's
question concerning sacrifices. In the analogy, the king's preference
is not determined by any bias towards one of his servants. The
king makes his choice based on a comparison of the virtues of
the two dishes. The question concerning sacrifices must be defined
in the same manner. The midrash is asserting that the sacrifices
are fundamentally different just as each cuisine presented to
the king is distinct. They represent two interpretations of the
concept of sacrifice. What are these two different types of sacrifice?
In other words, in what fundamental characteristic are the sacrifices
of Noach different from those legislated by the Torah?
The most obvious difference is that Noach was not guided by a
system of laws and regulations. His decision to offer sacrifices
was spontaneous. He was not following any commandment from G-d.
Also, his method of sacrifice was a personal expression. He was
not directed by any system of instructions. In contrast, the
Torah created a highly regulated system of sacrifices. Specific
occasions require sacrifices. The sacrificial service is regulated
down to the minute detail. True, a person can offer a free-will
offering. Nonetheless, in regard to sacrifices, the Torah leaves
little room for personal expression and spontaneity.
We can now clearly define the midrash's question. Which type
of sacrifice is preferable? Does Hashem prefer the spontaneous
sacrifice that is a personal expression? Does the Almighty favor
the highly regulated and structured offering?
One might argue that the Almighty, Himself, replaced the informal
sacrifices of Noach with the structured sacrifices of the Torah.
This suggests that the Torah's concept of sacrifice represents
an evolution from the more primitive sacrifices of Noach!
This certainly is a reassuring argument. However, it is not sound.
In order to understand the defect in this argument, we must consider
the reason Hashem introduced regulation and structure into the
sacrificial service. Sforno discusses the issue in his commentary
on Sefer Shemot. He explains that the commandment to build a
Mishcan was a consequence of the Golden Calf the Egel HaZahav.
Bnai Yisrael created and worshipped the Egel. This indicated
that the nation had not shed its idolatrous attitudes. These
tendencies could influence Divine worship. In order to preserve
the integrity of the Divine service, regulation was introduced.
In short, the introduction of intricate structure into the sacrificial
service was a response to a failing in the nation. It cannot
be defined as an evolutionary advance.
We have shown that the midrash's question cannot be easily dismissed.
In fact, it seems that a powerful argument can be made in favor
of Noach's sacrifices. Is not the heartfelt, spontaneous offering
superior to the structured, regulated sacrifices of the Torah?
It seems that the Torah's sacrifices are only an artificial imitation
of the personal and expressive sacrifices offered by Noach!
There is a remarkable parallel to the development of sacrifices.
Maimonides discusses the mitzvah of prayer in his Mishne Torah.
He explains that, according to the Torah, we are required to
pray every day. The Torah does not establish a set number of
prayers for each day. Neither is there a specified text. Each
person is free to pray once, or numerous times each day. Each
individual's prayers are a personal expression of one's own feelings.
Originally, the mitzvah was observed in the manner prescribed
by the Torah. However, after the destruction of the first Temple
and the subsequent exile, a problem arose. The majority of the
nation was no longer fluent in Hebrew the sacred language. Hebrew
was replaced by a variety of languages. Most were unable to effectively
express themselves in appropriate prayers. Ezra and his court
intervened. They ordained that we should pray three times each
day. They also established a specific text for the prayers.
In short, prayer was transformed. Originally, it was a personal
expression. Ezra created structure and regulation.
It seems that the midrash's question can also be expressed in
reference to prayer. Prayer and sacrifices both experienced identical
transformations. A personal, creative activity was transformed
into a highly structured and regulated expression. The midrash
is dealing with a basic question. Which expression is superior,
the personal or the structured? The midrash frames the question
in reference to sacrifices. However, the same question is relevant
The midrash responds to the question. The structured form of
worship is superior. The midrash quotes an interesting passage.
In describing the process for offering an Olah sacrifice, the
Torah states, "This is the law of the Olah." Why does
the midrash quote this passage? It is because the passage refers
to the laws of the Olah. The midrash is telling us the Torah's
sacrifices are superior as a result of their structure and regulation
of the laws of the Olah!
However, the midrash does not provide an explanation for its
conclusion. Why is the structured sacrifice superior to the spontaneous
offerings? The midrash does not provide much information. This
raises an important issue. Does the midrash's conclusion also
apply to prayer? In order to answer this question, we must better
understand the midrash's conclusion. Why is the structured sacrifice
superior? Once we answer this question, we can determine if this
midrash's conclusion also applies to prayer. We can answer this
question through analyzing another pasuk from our parasha.
"And he shall split the bird apart by its wings. He should
not completely separate it. And the Kohen should burn it on the
altar on the wood that is on the fire. It is an Olah, a fire
offering, an appeasing fragrance to Hashem." (VaYikra 1:17)
Various creatures can be offered as an Olah. This includes types
of cattle and even some fowls. Our passage discusses an Olah
of a fowl. The pasuk explains that this Olah is an appeasing
fragrance to Hashem. Rashi observes that the same phrase is used
in describing the Olah brought from cattle. Rashi explains, based
on the Midrash Sifra, that the passage intends to compare these
two offerings. The Olah of the fowl is
a modest offering. Typically, the fowl is offered by a poor person.
The Olah brought from cattle is a more substantial sacrifice.
Nonetheless, both are an appeasing fragrance to Hashem.
The modest and the more substantial offering are equal to the
Almighty. Both represent submission to His will. This is implied
by the phrase, "an appeasing fragrance to Hashem.
According to Rashi, this phrase means that the person has fulfilled
the will of Hashem.
Rashi is providing a basic insight into the concept of sacrifices.
The object offered does not define the value or quality of a
sacrifice. Instead, the element of submission is fundamental
to the sacrifice. The modest sacrifice is not inferior to the
more substantial offering. The important issue is that the person
bringing the sacrifice surrenders to the will of the Almighty.
How does the sacrifice represent this submission to the will
of Hashem? This occurs through the adherence to the specific
laws regulating the sacrifice. Conforming to these laws represents
submission to Hashem's will. This surrender defines service to
Hashem and worship.
We can now more fully understand the midrash's comments. The
sacrifices of Noach were not regulated by any system of law.
They did demonstrate submission. However, this demonstration
was only symbolic. Noah represented himself through the animal
on the altar. He communicated that he, like the sacrificed animal,
was completely devoted to Hashem. However, these sacrifices
did not involve an actual act of submission. They did not conform
to any Divinely ordained structure or law. This structure and
law did not exist. The Torah introduced an elaborate system of
law governing sacrifices. With these laws, sacrifices acquired
a new significance. The sacrificial service was transformed from
a symbolic to an actual submission.
Now, our question regarding prayer is answered. Ezra's reformulation
of prayer did not detract from the mitzvah. Instead, the mitzvah
was enhanced. Ezra made prayer more accessible to the average
person. He also added structure and regulation. This addition
enhances the element of devotion in prayer. The supplicant, through
adhering to these laws, demonstrates submission to the Almighty's
will. Through Ezra, prayer more closely models the concept of
Divine service expressed in sacrificial service.
 Sefer Beresheit 8:20-21.
 The midrash cites as an example Sefer BeMidbar 28:1.
 Sefer VaYikra 6:2.
 Midrash Rabba, Sefer VaYikra 7:4.
 Rabbaynu Ovadia Sforno, Commentary on Sefer Shemot
 Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne
Torah, Hilchot Teffilah 1:1-6.
 Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on
Sefer VaYikra 1:17.
 Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on
Sefer Shemot 29:18.
 See Rav Yitzchak Arama, Akeydat Yitzchak on Sefer Shemot,