Weekly Torah Portion: Sacrificial Offerings: a How-To Guide
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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.