Each year, as we start reading the Book of Vayikra, we have a sense of unease. It is difficult for us to relate to and understand the world of sacrifices to the same extent that we have identified with the weekly Torah readings thus far. All the detailed verses and laws concerning the various sacrifices seem limited – what can we possibly learn or gain from them?
The Hassidic sages come to our rescue, finding within the sacrifices – as within every other aspect of Torah – profound significance for our lives. There are innumerable examples of this approach; we shall present here only one such lesson.
In parshat Tzav, we read:
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Aharon and to his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the sin offering (hatat): in the place where the burnt offering (olah) is slaughtered, shall the sin offering be slaughtered before Hashem.”
This verse would seem to be discussing an entirely technical detail – the place where the sin offering is to be offered; this is designated by means of a connection between the sin offering and the burnt offering. But to the view of R. Mordekhai Yosef of Izbitzche – known as the “Mei Shiloah”, after his work of the same name – the Torah is teaching us much more.
The burnt offering and the sin offering are not only categories of sacrifices; they also represent types of people. The burnt offering, which is burnt in its entirety (i.e., offered completely to Hashem) and is brought by a person who has entertained an unworthy thought, symbolizes the perfect Tzaddik, who devotes himself entirely to Hashem. The sin offering, which is brought after an actual sin has been committed, symbolizes a penitent – a person who has sinned but has renounced his sin and decides to bring a sacrifice to atone for his misdeed; a ba’al teshuva.
We now discover new meaning in the verse quoted above. In the same place where we find the burnt offering (the Tzaddik), there the sin offering (the ba’al teshuva) must also be found. A ba’al teshuva, by returning to the proper path, reaches the same place where the perfect Tzaddik has been all along. Hashem does not hold the sin against him; the sin that he committed no longer leaves any impression upon his soul. Teshuva (repentance) atones for a person and repairs him so that he may be compared with a Tzaddik.
Furthermore, teaches the Mei Shiloah, the blood of the burnt sacrifice is sprinkled on the lower part of the altar, while the blood of the sin offering is sprinkled on the upper part. Here again there is a lesson to be learned as to the ability of the ba’al teshuva (the sin offering) by means of his repentance to reach, ultimately, a higher level than that of the Tzaddik (the burnt offering).
This teaching by the Mei Shiloah demonstrates that we should not read the parshiot of Sefer Vayikra in cursory fashion, treating the entire subject of sacrifices and Temple service as removed from our world and our experience. Our Torah is eternal, it contains many layers of meaning that are revealed in each generation, each precious revelation serving to increase its light and its glory.