Weekly Parashah Articles

Vayikra

The book of Leviticus gets its name from a Latin word which in its turn is derived from Greek Λευιτικόν thus connecting the content of the book with the tribe of Levi. In Hebrew tradition the book is called Vayikra from the opening Hebrew word וַיִּקְרָא – “and He called.”

Although וַיִּקְרָא is found hundreds of times in the Tanakh, the phrase וַיִּקְרָ֧א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה – “and He called to Moses” is used only two times in the biblical text.

These words are unique and important. It is possible that Moses begins the book of Vayikra this way “because this sentence continues the narrative at the end of Exodus: the divine Presence filled the Tabernacle, and so Moses would not venture to enter the Tent until God summoned him (Palestinian Targums).”[1] The reference to the divine presence recalls one more important event in the history of Israel. When “Moses went up to the mountain, … the cloud covered the mountain” Exod 24:15. After that, “The glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud” Exod 24:16. Here one finds exactly the same words וַיִּקְרָ֧א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה “and He called to Moses.” This allows to see a strong connection between Moses’ meeting with Adonai on the Mount Sinai and His conversation with God which took place right after the building of the Tabernacle. God’s presence and His glory now moved to the Mishkan fulfilling His promise to dwell among the children of Israel.

God continued Speaking

If the book Vayikra is connected with the revelation on Sinai, then the concept of all sacrifices is connected with the Law of Moses and Mosaic covenant as well. In other words, neither obedient keeping commandments not the union with God were possible without different types of sacrificed animals. God continued speaking from the Tabernacle thus placing all communications with Him in the context of the sacrifices and atonement provided by them.

The Sacrifice

Many scholars noticed that Jewish practice to worship the Lord was not completely unique. Many peoples practiced different types of sacrifices. However some elements of Israelite worship were very different and even unique.

The gift

Doctor Roy Gane very well observed, that,

Leviticus 1:9 tells us that the overall goal of the burnt offering is to provide a gift of pleasing aroma to the Lord. The word for “gift” here is ʾiššeh, which is usually understood to mean something like “an offering made by fire” (NIV), derived from the similar word ʾeš (“ fire”). However, the idea that ʾiššeh means “gift” is suggested by its close relation to a word in Ugaritic (iṯt), which is from the same Semitic family of languages as Hebrew, that means “gift.”[2]

This means that even if one was not obligated to do a sacrifice, it was encouraged and blessed by God. It was possible to offer such a gift to the Lord confirming the covenant with Him.

The Place

The Patriarchs were able to worship at every place. Many scholars correctly observe that later the book of Leviticus prescribed to bring sacrifices exclusively to the Tabernacle in order to eliminate any possibility of pagan worship in Israel. Accepting this view, I would like to highlight one more important aspect of the place. If the Lord entered the sanctuary, then bringing the sacrifices to the entrance of the Tabernacle meant a direct connection with Him, thus the place played a key role in the worship. A worshipper would not worship an abstract God, but rather would meet with the One who created humans, liberated them from the Egyptian bondage, and, finally established the covenant of amazing loving relations.

Killing the Animal

It is amazing how many individuals strongly believe that the priests were responsible for killing animals. However the text says otherwise, “‘He shall slay the young bull before the LORD” Lev 1:5. It is important to remember about this fact as it demonstrates the accountability for sins. The one who sinned was supposed to get atonement.

Laying of Hand and Atonement

“He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf” Lev 1:4.[3] The Laying of the hand symbolized a transferring of some qualities to another entity. In case of the burnt offering a person who did the sacrifice transferred his or her sins to the animal and as it can be seen from the quoted text, only after that the person would receive atonement accepted by the Lord.

He is the Victim

The New Testament in harmony with the book of Leviticus points to Jesus as the true sacrifice. “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” John 1:29 Apostle Paul in his Epistle to Hebrews elaborated this topic demonstrating how Leviticus and its rituals met fulfillment in Yeshua (Jesus). In light of this article it is important to highlight that those who accept Jesus as their Messiah should remember about the place of His sacrifice and His current location (the Heavenly Temple), responsibility (“my personal sin kills the victim, not someone’s”), and transferring personal sins to the victim as an ultimate condition of atonement.

I am the Victim

Apostle Paul says to his listeners, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” Rom 12:1. In the context of the book of Leviticus these words become  more profound and challenging. At the same time they are very solemn. To the ones who believe today in Yeshua as the Messiah, Paul offers a great privilege: to become like Him.

 

Daniel Gordan

 

Image: Public domain

[1] W. Gunther Plaut and David E. Stein, eds., The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2006), 660.

[2] Walton, John H.; Gane, Roy; Block, Daniel I.. NIVAC Bundle 1: Pentateuch (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 37754-37759). Zondervan.

[3] Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. www.Lockman.org unless other translation is indicated.