Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Parshat VaYikra

Korbanot, Honey and Chametz

The Torah gives long, detailed explanations as to the items that can be offered as korbanot, in this week's parsha. They include certain animals and foods. However, the Torah adds that: "No meal offering that you sacrifice to the Lord shall be made out of chametz. For you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke any chametz or any honey, as a fire offering to the Lord" (VaYikra 2:11).

The Torah does not explain why, but neither chametz nor honey (probably the nectar that comes from dates and figs, as opposed to that of bees) can bed offered up as a korban to God.

We can only theorize as to why these foodstuffs were forbidden in the Temple. A popular explanation as to why chametz cannot be offered includes the idea that chametz is grain that has risen, i.e. puffed up, showing evidence of pride. This would counter the purpose of a korban, whose essence is to show humility before God.

Another idea is that unleavened grain, just like salt, which is a requirement of every offering, never decays and becomes moldy. This would symbolize God's covenant with Israel; it is eternal and will never decay.

It is far more difficult to understand why honey was forbidden as an offering to God. Rambam suggests that honey was a main ingredient used in the pagan worship of gods, and was therefore excluded from Israel's rituals. While modern scholarship suggests that Rambam was correct, it does not explain why wine and other foods also used in pagan worship, were permitted.

Nevertheless, we have a biblical source which shows that this stricture was upheld.

While castigating the inhabitants of Shechem who had anointed Avimlech as king, enabling him to murder his seventy brothers, Yotam, the only surviving brother, tells a story predicting their doom (see Shoftim Ch. 9). The story tells of the trees seeking a king. They approach, the olive, the vine and the fig trees. All three reject the position. The olive tree states: "Should I leave my fatness, seeing that by me they honor God and man" (ibid 9), showing that that olives (or the oil produced from it) were used in the worship of God. The vine states: "Should I leave my wine, which cheers God and man" (ibid 13), showing that it was also used in worship. However, the fig tree states: "Should I leave my sweetness and my good fruitage" (ibid 11). It does not mention God, showing Israel, in this regard at least, did not copy its pagan neighbors and use honey in the worship of God.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat VaYikra, entitled: "Moshe's Calling" appears at

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