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.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Parshat VaYikra

The Pleasant Fragrance

This week's parsha is all about the korbanot, sacrifices and offerings brought by Isael for various occasions.

Thee concept seems strange to the modern person. God has a house. His house is similar to a human house with a table, lights, cupboard, wash basin, altar (aka oven) and implements.

And then it seems that God is being fed. He is given an offering. It is put on the altar and then it vanishes in smoke, with the smoke going up to heaven, as if God us dining on the animal. Sometimes, He even shares the meal with others.

The Torah then writes: "It is a burnt offering, a fire offering, a pleasing fragrance to the Lord: (VaYikra 1:17).

This phrase implies that God has literally enjoyed the offering. Even though many primitive people understood the concept in this manner, we of course, understand that all these ideas are anthropomorphic, the description of God in human terms, so that we can understand it.

This was not the first time, however, that God found a koban to be a "pleasing fragrance." After the flood, Noach also made sacrifice to God: "Noah built an altar to the Lord, and he took of all the clean animals and of all the clean fowl and brought up burnt offerings on the altar. The Lord smelled the pleasant aroma, and the Lord said to Himself" (Bereshit 8:20-21).

From this episode, we learn that the sacrifice was not to provide food for God. How?

In the parallel Gilgamesh epic, once the gods brought the flood to the world, they realized that they had made a grave mistake, for they no longer had any food or drink and were starving. Indeed, when the hero of the flood makes a sacrifice, he provides them with wine as well, and all the gods crowded around like flies into to get some food.

However, Noach does not provide any drink, for God was not thirsty, and neither does God crowd around the sacrifice, for He was not hungry. He just finds the odor pleasing. This, therefore means that He accepted the offering.

This idea can also be proved from another text in Sefer VaYikra. There God threatens Israel with numerous admonitions should they be unfaithful. The passuk writes: "I will lay your cities waste and make your holy places desolate, and I will not smell of your pleasant fragrances" (VaYikra 26:31).

There God does not seem to be worried about going hungry. He is simply that He will not smell the pleasant aroma, i.e. He will reject the offering.

Therefore, the term "smelling" the pleasant aroma, is merely a term that means, accepting the sacrifice, that the person offering the sacrifice has been accepted.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat VaYikra, entitled: "Sacrifice and Offering" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat VaYikra, entitled: "Korbanot, Honey and Chametz" appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat VaYikra, entitled: "Moshe's Calling" appears at

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