The book of Vayikra is the primary source for the laws of the
korbanot / sacrificial offerings, many of which were brought to atone
for various sins. Today, however, there is no Bet Hamikdash, and we
do not offer sacrifices. How then can we achieve the same atonement
that formerly was attained through bringing sacrifices?
R' Eliezer Papo z"l (1785-1827; author of Pele Yoetz) writes that
our parashah and the next allude to four separate means of attaining
atonement in the absence of the sacrificial service.
First, one must remember why a sacrifice brings atonement. It is
because the person who offers the sacrifice pictures to himself that
he deserves the fate that is now being meted out to his animal. Thus
humbled, the sinner returns to Hashem. This is alluded to in the
verse (1:2), "When a man brings an offering to Hashem from among you."
Second, the Gemara teaches that learning the laws of the sacrifices
is equivalent to bring sacrifices. This is alluded to in the verse
(7:37), "This is the Torah of the olah / elevation-offering, the
minchah / meal-offering, the chatat / sin-offering, and the asham /
guilt-offering . . ." (The Gemara learns from this and similar verses
that learning the Torah of the offering is equivalent to bringing the
Third, we read (1:3), "He shall bring it to the entrance of the Ohel
Mo'ed / Tent of Meeting, willingly, before Hashem." This alludes to
the fact that when the only thing keeping a person from doing a
particular mitzvah is an obstacle beyond his control, Hashem gives him
credit for doing the mitzvah as if he actually performed it. This
applies to bringing sacrifices as well.
Finally, "He shall support his hand upon the head of the olah."
When a person supports the poor, he achieves a higher level than one
who brings a korban olah. Thus we read in Mishlei (21:3), "Doing
tzedakah and justice is preferable to Hashem than an offering." (Elef
"When a man / adam among you brings an offering . . ." (1:2)
Commenting on this verse, Midrash Rabbah states: "`Adam' is an
expression of love, an expression of brotherhood, an expression of
friendship." What is this midrash teaching?
R' Aharon Lewin z"l (the "Reisha Rav"; killed in the Holocaust in
1941) explains: There is a dispute among the Rishonim / early
commentaries as to the purpose of animal sacrifices. Rambam z"l
writes that when Hashem gave the Torah, He did not attempt to wean His
people entirely from the idolatrous ways with which they were
familiar. Rather, He instructed Bnei Yisrael to direct to Him the
service that they otherwise would have performed to idols. Many other
commentaries disagree vociferously and offer other interpretations.
In particular, R' Yitzchak Arama z"l (the "Ba'al Ha'akeidah")
explains that Hashem recognized man's emotional need to repay his
debts. Therefore, Hashem instructed us regarding an order of
sacrifices, and He acts as if man is thereby giving Him a gift.
There is a wide gulf between the explanations of Rambam and the
Ba'al Ha'akeidah. According to the former, the inclusion in the Torah
of a sacrificial service indicates the lowliness of man; according to
the latter, it indicates G-d's love for man.
R' Lewin continues: In light of this dispute, we can understand the
above midrash. Do not think, says the midrash, that the inclusion in
the Torah of a sacrificial service indicates the lowliness of man.
No! "It is an expression of love, an expression of brotherhood, an
expression of friendship."
(Ha'drash Ve'ha'iyun: Vaykira, No. 1)
"If one's offering is an olah from the cattle, . . . the sons of
Aharon, the Kohanim, shall . . . throw the blood on the Altar . .
An olah can be brought from four-legged animals or from fowl.
Likewise, a chatat / sin offering can be brought from four-legged
animals or from fowl. The Mishnah (Kinim 1:1) teaches that the blood
of a bird-chatat and an animal-olah are placed on the lower half of
the altar's wall, while the blood of an animal-chatat and a bird-olah
are placed on the top half of the altar. Why?
R' Amram Zvi Gruenwald z"l (dayan in Oyber-Visheve, Hungary and
rabbi in the Fernwald D.P. camp) observes that a four-legged animal
usually is brought by a wealthy person, while a bird usually is
brought by a poor person. A chatat is brought to repent for a sin;
although a poor person's repentance also is desired by Hashem, the
repentance of a wealthy person who humbles himself is more beloved.
Therefore, in the case of a chatat, the blood of the rich man's
offering is brought to the top of the altar and the blood of the poor
man's offering is placed lower down.
In contrast, an olah is a voluntary gift offering. Whose gift is
more beloved by Hashem - the rich man's or the poor man's? Obviously,
the poor man's, as it entails a greater sacrifice. Therefore its
blood is placed at the top of the altar, and the blood of the rich
man's olah is placed below.
(Zichron Amram Zvi)
From the Pesach Haggadah
"Originally our ancestors were idol worshipers, but now the
Omnipresent has brought us near to His service . . ."
Many commentaries observe that this sentence fulfills our Sages'
direction: "We begin with disgrace and conclude with praise." But
whose praise? R' David Hanaggid z"l (1224-1300; grandson of Rambam)
We begin with our own disgrace - "Originally our ancestors were idol
worshipers" - and we conclude with praise of Hashem - that despite our
lowly standing, He performed miracles for us and, in His kindness,
took us out of Egypt.
R' David adds: There also is praise of Bnei Yisrael implied here -
that despite their tribulations, they did not lose faith and did not
assimilate among the Egyptians. Rather, they clung to that which
their father Avraham had taught.
However, concludes R' David, this leads back to Hashem's praise, for
it was He who chose Avraham from among all the other people of his
generation, gave him Yitzchak, etc. (as the remainder of this
paragraph in the Haggadah relates).
(Midrash R' David Hanaggid: Haggadah Shel Pesach p.55)
"Go and learn what Lavan the Aramean attempted to do to our
father Yaakov! For Pharaoh decreed only against the males, while
Lavan attempted to uproot everything."
R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z"l (1910-1995) comments: Although the
Torah never mentions explicitly that Lavan wanted to kill Yaakov, our
Sages testify that such was his intention. And, just as the details
of Lavan's plot against Yaakov remain hidden, so it has been
throughout history. We read in Hallel: "Praise Hashem, all nations .
. . For His kindness has overwhelmed us . . ." Commentaries ask:
Should the nations praise Hashem because His kindness has overwhelmed
us? The answer that is commonly given is that only the nations can
truly appreciate Hashem's kindness to us, because only they know how
many times they have plotted against us and failed.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach)
"This is what stood by our fathers and us."
What is "This"? R' Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss z"l (1902-1989; "Dayan
Weiss" of Manchester and Yerushalayim) explains that this statement
refers to Hashem's words to Avraham quoted in the previous paragraph
of the Haggadah: "Know that your offspring will be aliens in a land
not their own . . ." It is the fact that we have always been aliens,
keeping some distance from our host nations, that has maintained us in
all of our exiles.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Minchat Yitzchak)
Perhaps one of the most perplexing parts of the Haggadah is the song
known as "Dayenu," in which we say that if G-d had taken us out of
Egypt but had not judged the Egyptians, that would have been enough
for us. Or, if He had judged the Egyptians, but had not destroyed
their idols, that, too, would have been enough for us. Or, if He had
destroyed their idols, but had not killed their firstborns, that, too,
would have been enough. Or . . . What does this song mean?
R' Eliyahu Hakohen Ha'itamari z"l of Izmir explains that for each of
the Divine gifts or miracles listed in this song, one could make an
argument that G-d should have acted otherwise. Our praise of G-d is
that He considered all these arguments and acted in the way that was
best for us and for the glory of His Name.
For example, one could argue that if G-d had taken us out of Egypt
but had not judged the Egyptians so harshly as to practically destroy
them, His name would have been magnified even more because the
Egyptians would live to remember, and to tell others, how He had
humbled them. On the other hand, one could argue that they would not
feel humbled in that event. Rather, they would say, "He won this
battle, and we will win the next battle."
That is why G-d judged the Egyptians harshly. However, one could
argue that if G-d had judged the Egyptians harshly but had not
destroyed their idols, those idols would have served as constant
reminders of G-d's power to anyone who saw them. On the other hand,
some people would say that G-d was not strong enough to destroy the
That is why G-d destroyed the Egyptians' idols. However, one could
argue that if G-d had destroyed their idols, but had not killed their
firstborns, then those firstborns would have had a special reason to
tell others of G-d's greatness. It was customary at that time to
devote one's firstborn to the service of the idol; with all the idols
destroyed, the Egyptian firstborn, who were no longer performing that
service, would be a testament to G-d's power. On the other hand,
Pharaoh was a firstborn; if the firstborns had not been smitten,
people would say that it was Pharaoh's merit or power which saved him
and those like him.