The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), also known as Torat Kohanim the Laws of the Priests deals largely with the korbanot (offerings) brought in the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting). The first group of offerings is called korban olah, a burnt offering. The animal is brought to the Mishkan's entrance. For cattle, the one bringing the offering sets his hands on the animal. Afterwards it is slaughtered and the kohen sprinkles its blood on the altar. The animal is skinned and cut into pieces. The pieces are arranged, washed and burned on the altar. A similar process is described involving burnt offerings of other animals and birds. The various meal offerings are described. Part of the meal offering is burned on the altar, and the remaining parteaten by the kohanim. Mixing leaven or honey into the offerings is prohibited. The peace offering, part of which is burnt on the altar and part is eaten, can be either from cattle, sheep or goats. The Torah prohibits eating blood or chelev (certain fats in animals). The offerings that atone for inadvertent sins committed by the Kohen Gadol, by the entire community, by the prince and by the average citizen are detailed. Laws of the guilt-offering, which atones for certain verbal transgressions and for transgressing laws of ritual purity, are listed. The meal offering for those who cannot afford the normal guilt offering, the offering to atone for misusing sanctified property, laws of the "questionable guilt" offering, and offerings for dishonesty are detailed.
Root And Branch
"And he called" (1:1)
If you look at a tree and see healthy branches, you can be sure that its roots are strong.
When a young child takes his first steps in learning Torah, you would think that he starts by learning "In the beginning of G-ds creating the heavens and the earth" and from there he slowly works his way to the end of the Five Books.
However, many Torah education experts start not with the Book of Bereshet but with the volume that we start reading in synagogue this week, the third of the Torahs volumes, Vayikra.
What is the reason to start with Vayikra?
Firstly, its easy to misunderstand the opening chapters of the Torah. They contain many deep mystical ideas which are understood only by the wisest and holiest people in each generation.
However, there is another reason. The Book of Vayikra is principally concerned with sacrifices. By teaching our children the book of Vayikra first, we are inculcating the knowledge that Torah can only thrive in someone who is prepared to sacrifice his time, his ego, and his pursuit of worldly pleasure to achieve its crown.
In a similar vein, Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin (the founder of the Daf Yomi cycle of Torah study that recently completed its 11th seven-year cycle on March 1st) explains the saying of our Sages "Be watchful of the children of the poor, for from them the Torah will come forth." A Torah education does not come cheaply. For someone who has trouble making ends meet, the self-sacrifice required to give ones children a good Torah education is considerable. The Torah of these children comes through difficulty, from self-denial. Because the Torah of the "children of the poor" is earned through hardship and self-sacrifice, it has a staying power which lasts for generations.
If the branches look strong, the roots must be stronger.
- Based on the Avnei Ezel in Mayana shel Torah