Beauty Sheep: Vayikra 2023

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When you wish someone “the best”, what do you mean? Should it be understood that you literally hope that person will enjoy the best of everything? Or does it mean that you hope the person does the best they can do?

As the third book of the Torah begins, the text is clear that God deserves the best sacrifices available to the people:

The Pitch: “If his offering for a burnt offering is from the flock, of sheep or of goats, he shall make his offering a male without blemish.” – Leviticus 1:10

Swing #1: “Abel’s sacrifice was preferred to Cain’s because he offered firstlings and their fat pieces, i.e., the best of his flock, whereas Cain only brought some of the fruit of the ground. Leviticus repeatedly insists that only unblemished animals may be offered in sacrifice.” – Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, Craig G. Bartholomew & David J. H. Beldman, ed.

Swing #2: “It is important to remember that the transferring of sins and the expiation which results from it are said to be effective only because the goat is presented before Yahweh: Yahweh brought about the transfer, and the expiation. The goat was not sacrificed to Azazel or to Yahweh because, once it had been charged with the sins of the people, it was impure, and therefore could not be used as a victim for sacrifice. The Levitical ritual has therefore incorporated an old custom of unknown origin into its liturgy, but it has at the same time exorcised it.” – Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel

Swing #3: “[One who says: It is incumbent upon me to bring a burnt offering] from the flock, must bring a lamb [as his burnt offering,] since the verse opens with it first [in the passage discussing burnt offerings of the flock].” – BT Menachot 105a

Late-Inning Questions: Why is it important for an unblemished animal to be brought to God when the animal will be slaughtered anyway? Would the ritual feel like a literal sacrifice if someone brought a blemished animal? How can we tell when we are bringing others our best?

On-Deck at TBT: We have several bins in the synagogue by the coat racks for collection of wool socks, food for the needy, and items for refugees coming into our community. Please remember there are always people in need in our community. We thank you for your help.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of bringing the best, it was heartening that the World Baseball Classic was filled with well-played games, exciting moments, and a climactic finale. The only thing that would make it better is if future WBCs took place during a two-week pause in the regular season in July, coinciding or even replacing that year’s All-Star Game.

Shabbat Shalom!