Our portion provides additional details regarding the sacrificial rites discussed in last week’s portion. God instructs both the priests and the people, via Moses, on proper conduct with the various offerings they may encounter.
Additionally, the portion delineates certain general rules, such as not eating the fat of certain animals which can be used in the sacrificial service, or the blood of any animal at any time. The portion concludes with the inauguration ceremony for both the Tabernacle itself and Aaron and sons as the priestly family, a service conducted by Moses himself over the course of seven days.
Further Instructions to the Priests (Sacrificial Offerings: a How-To Guide)
This lengthy passage deals with the details of several sacrifices discussed in last week’s Torah portion, Vayikra. Each section is introduced with the phrase “Zot Torat…”, or “This is the law of…”. God tells Moses that he is to teach Aaron and his sons what to do with the various offerings the Children of Israel will bring.
Of the burnt offering, God commands that its ashes be removed from the altar while the priest wears his holy garments, but then carried out of the camp while the priest wears other garments. The fire on the altar is to be kept burning at all times, a reminder, the Israel Bible points out, of God’s constant presence among the people. Today, this constant flame is represented by the eternal light hanging above the Torah ark in synagogues the world over.
Of the meal offering, God instructs Aaron, via Moses, precisely how to offer it, allowing him and his descendants to partake of it so long as it is not brought by a priest himself.
Regarding the sin offering, God commands that it be slaughtered in the same place as the burnt offering, and the portions which may be eaten are given to the priest who performs the service. The vessels in which the offering is prepared gain a special status of holiness and must be ritually cleansed before being used again, or, in certain cases, destroyed.
The guilt offering, too, is slaughtered in the same place as the burnt and sin offerings, but the priestly portions may be eaten by any priest.
The unique peace offering comes in a variety of forms. The thanksgiving offering must be eaten the same day, while the donation or vow offering can be consumed for two days, but not three. Leftovers must be burnt. Only one who is ritually pure may eat from this offering, and any portion of the meat which becomes ritually contaminated may not be eaten.
The Israel Bible discusses some of the reasons one might bring a thanksgiving offering, as brought by the Talmud. These include surviving a treacherous journey, a sea voyage, a serious illness or an imprisonment. These survivors would be imminently grateful for God’s grace. Today, in the absence of the sacrificial service, those who survive dangerous situations say a special prayer, called hagomel, to express their gratitude for God’s protection.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think God allows the priests to partake of some offerings but not others? Why would some be for a specific priest, while others would be for any priest to eat?
Further Instructions to the People
After instructing the priests with further details of the sacrificial rites, God tells Moses to instruct the people regarding portions they are forbidden from eating at any time and who gets to partake in the sacrifices they bring and how.
God commands the Children of Israel not to eat the fats of animals which would otherwise be offered upon the altar. This includes sheep, goats and oxen. Even if the animal is not to be eaten, such as a carcass which died on its own, the fats may be used for other purposes, but not human consumption. The blood of any animal may not be eaten at any time, according to the Torah. Anyone who eats the blood or forbidden fats will be “cut off from its people”, a heavenly punishment considered to be the harshest God ever doles out.
The people are also told that when they bring a peace offering, the fat shall be burned for God, but the breast and right thigh shall be the priestly portion for all eternity.
The final four verses of this section serve to bookend all that came before, signalling that God has finished instructing Moses with everything he would need to know before the Tabernacle begins operating.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think eating the forbidden fat and blood is so severe a transgression that it is punishable by the most serious of consequences known in the Torah?
Inauguration of the Tabernacle and Priests
In this chapter, God tells Moses to anoint the Tabernacle, Aaron and his sons so that they may begin their service. The inauguration takes place in front of the entire Assembly of Israel. Moses immerses his brother in water and dresses him in his High Priestly garments. He then anoints the Tabernacle and everything in it.
Then Moses performs the rites for the sacrifice brought by Aaron and his sons — a sin offering of a bull. The priests place their hands on the head of the animal as Moses slaughters it, then its blood is alternately dabbed and poured on the altar. Parts of the bull are offered on the altar, and the remains are burned to ash. Another sacrifice, this time a ram for an elevation offering, is brought, then another ram, for the inauguration. From the inauguration ram, some of the blood is dabbed on Aaron’s right ear, thumb and toe. This ritual is repeated for his sons. Part of this offering is burned on the altar, part is given to Moses, and part is given to Aaron and his sons to eat in the Tabernacle. Moses sprinkles them with a combination of anointing oil and the blood of the sacrifice. The new priests are instructed to remain in the Tabernacle for seven days to complete their inauguration.
The Israel Bible points out that Kings of Israel, like the priests, are anointed with oil. However, says Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda of Berlin, the two acts have very different purposes. Kings are anointed to give them power, while priests are anointed to sanctify them in new levels of holiness.
Points to Ponder
The inauguration is the only time Moses performs the priestly service. Why do you think the role was given in perpetuity to his brother Aaron instead?