Commentary for Vayikra

21 Mar

In this week’s parshah we start to learn the laws of the various sacrifices. For most of the sacrifices, the rules covered are similar. We learn who brings the sacrifice, what animals can be sacrificed for each particular sacrifice, what parts of the animal are burned on the altar, who- if anyone- is allowed to eat its meat, what must be done with any leftovers, etc. etc.

 

One peculiar variation to this is found in the laws of the minchah offering. The minchah offering is a voluntary offering, and in fact is the first such offering officially detailed in the Torah. It consisted of flour mixed with oil and sometimes with frankincense, part of which was burned on the altar and part was given to the priests. If it is offered as a baked product rather than just a pan of flour, we are told that it must not be leavened. This is expounded upon in 2:11 where rather than being told how an offering should be prepared, we are told how it must not be prepared: “Any meal offering that you offer to the Lord shall not be prepared leavened, for you shall not cause to go up in smoke any leavening or any honey from it as a burnt offering to the Lord.”

 

There is a teaching from the Chassidic dynasty of Kotzk that “ultra-sweet honey and ultra-sour leaven are opposite extremes; God does not like extremes.” The minchah offering was given not only voluntarily, but with no strings attached. Other voluntary offerings were still voluntary, but had a certain desired outcome on the part of the giver (such as the next offering discussed, the shelamim offering, which was given in times of nervousness in the hope of the giver receiving some sort of reassurance from God that everything would be okay in the end), but the minchah offering was brought whenever the bringer desired and for whatever reason he, she, or they wanted. Human nature being what it is, this probably resulted in most minchah offerings falling into one of two possible categories: thanks to God because things are going well, or a plea to God because things aren’t going well and the bringer wants that to change.

 

God, of course, understands human nature. The prohibition against leaven and honey in the minchah offering is more than just a culinary choice but also a reminder from God that our actions should not be informed by a world viewed through tinted glasses. Whether those glasses are tinted with rose or with darkness, they represent a distortion of the reality that God has created for us.   Things are not completely perfect, but neither are they completely terrible. There are always things that can improve and always things that could be worse than they are right now.   To come to God bearing flour, a most basic and worldly dietary staple, while also coming to God with a mind closed to the reality of that world is to come to God offering a vain prayer; one based on a premise that does not exist. It is equally a rejection of God to thank God for something that doesn’t exist as it is to request that God change something that doesn’t exist. God does not want us to come bearing honey or leavening, but to come bearing an open mind that has spent time honestly considering the world God has made for us before coming to G-d to share our thoughts on it.

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