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Bat Mitzvah of the Week

Nadine Katz

March 17, 2018

Parshat : Vayikrah 1:1 - 5:26

God instructs Moses on the five different kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered in the sanctuary:

The olah or "burnt offering" was a voluntary sacrifice that had a high degree of sanctity and was regarded as the "standard" offering. The entire animal, except for its hide, was burned on the altar. (1:1-17)
The minchah or "meal offering" was a sacrifice made of flour, oil, salt, and frankincense that was partly burned on the altar and partly given to the priests to eat. (2:1-16)
The zevach sh'lamim or "sacrifice of well-being" was a voluntary animal offering from one's herd, sometimes brought to fulfill a vow. (3:1-17)
The chatat or "sin offering" was an obligatory sacrifice that was offered to expiate unintentional sins. This offering differs from the others in the special treatment of the blood of the animal. (4:1-5:13)
The asham or "penalty offering" was an obligatory sacrifice of a ram that was required chiefly of one who had misappropriated property. (5:1-26)

For more information and resources on this portion, click here.

Nadine's Interpretation

In my Torah portion —Vayikra, God commands the Israelites to give sacrifices.

Much of the portion involves step-by-step instructions for five (5) sacrifices that God speaks to Moses about. The first one is the Olah, or “burnt offering.” For this offering one must only sacrifice a sheep, goat, or bull —“without a blemish.” But those who were not farmers raising livestock, or who were financially unable to get such animals, could sacrifice a turtle dove or pigeon.

For this sacrifice, the person offering the sacrifice must place a hand upon the animal’s head, before it may be slaughtered. After which, the priests are then to pour a portion of the animal’s blood on the side of the altar. The animal is then to be cut into sections and burned upon the altar. In the alternative, if the sacrifice is a turtle dove or pigeon, its head is to be removed, and the blood is then poured on the side of the altar. The bird is then to be torn open by the wings, and placed upon the altar to be consumed by the fire.

The second sacrifice is the Mincha or “meal offering.” Mincha consists of choice flour, of the finest quality, oil, and frankincense. A handful of this mixture is to be placed upon the altar for burning, with the remainder to be eaten by the priests.

The third sacrifice is the Zevach Shelamim, or “sacrifice of well-being,” and is to be taken from the herd or flock; the animal offering should be “without blemish,” and the priests are to cut it up and offer the entrails and all the fat upon the altar.

Going back to the Olah, or “burnt offering,” God instructs:
“Its entrails and legs shall be washed with water, and the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.” [Lev. 3:3-5]

My key Koshi or key question is: Why do the sacrifices need to be of pleasing odor? Does this mean that God can really smell?
Rabbi Charles Savenor explains, “The Talmud is peppered with God depicted in human imagery. The Almighty is described as a king, creator, healer, parent and judge. The Talmud even imagines God as a student and teacher of Torah and Talmud.” He goes on further to explain that Torah is written in language that humans can understand and visualize. In other words, we don’t know if God can smell, but we know that we humans can smell. We also know that we prefer things that smell good. Rabbi Bernard Bamberger explains that in ancient times, “It was generally believed that the supernatural powers –whether spirits of the dead, demons, or gods –had the same material needs as humans; further, they could be appeased by satisfying those needs.” From this perspective, God wants nice things from us.

Rashi responds to this question by focusing less on God and more on the person who offers the sacrifice. He interprets the line about a pleasing odor by explaining, “What really matters is that one’s heart is directed to God,” a perspective that expresses God’s desire for intentionality rather than obedience. So if you think the sacrifice smells good, God will, too. If you put your heart into the offering, and give something you yourself would want to receive, then your offering is a real, holy offering.

In my opinion, I don’t think God can smell. I think the sacrifices should be of pleasing odor, because why would you give something that smells bad to someone else, especially to God? I also think smells are powerful, and that’s why the instructions emphasize the smells. When I first studied this portion, we spoke about the power of smells to bring back memories. The smell of our favorite foods can bring us back to the time or place when we first tried those foods. When I think about certain smells, I think about the smells at camp, and it brings me back to summertime. I think about my friends, the forest, the food, and the smell of my bunk. It makes me feel like I am there. The smells make the memories so real and kind of comforting.

The lesson for us this Shabbat from my portion Vayikra is to think about the power of smells. Try to think about one memorable smell or fragrance from a different place and time – somewhere really special to you. I hope this makes you feel the way I do about camp.

Nadine's Mitzvah Project

For my Mitzvah Project I have been volunteering at the Coachman Family Center, where I have been involved in activities, including arts-and-crafts and cooking, with homeless children from our community. Working with them has really taught me to be thankful for what I have. Our recent storms have also made me realize how fortunate I am to have a warm home with lights. It’s so easy to take for granted.