Rare, Medium or Veggie? – Rav Yonatan Horovitz
Many of us enjoy a good steak. Others prefer different types of meat. Then there are the vegetarians. At communal meals, whether at a simcha or in educational institutions the various needs and whims of the diners are generally accommodated. In the ensuing lines we will investigate whether the same notion is to be found in the various possibilities listed by the Torah for those wishing to bring a free-will offering.
This week’s parsha begins with a description of the three types of “korbanot nedava”, sacrifices given by people of their own volition. The first is the “olah”, burnt in its entirety on the mizbeach. Three types of olah are described; cow, sheep or bird. The Torah goes on to describe various kinds of the “mincha” or meal offering. These can be brought in different forms; baked, fried or simply mixed with oil. The last group of korbanot nedava is the “shelamim” or peace offerings. These can also be brought from the ox, sheep or goat families but, as opposed to the olah, the meat is divided between the altar, the Kohanim and the owners of the sacrifice.
Why are there so many different options for someone who wishes to bring a sacrifice to the Bet Hamikdash, or Mishkan in the pre-Temple era? At first glance, the difference between the olah and the shelamim would appear to be obvious. The olah is completely burned on the altar while the owner partakes of the meat of the shelamim. In simple terms this means that the financial sacrifice of one who brings an olah is greater. He donates an animal to the mizbeach and receives no physical return for his investment. One who chooses to offer a shelamim on the other hand, can subsequently invite all his family over for a barbecue. In fact, until entry into Eretz Yisrael, the only way a member of Am Yisrael could eat red meat was by bringing a shelamim to the Mishkan.
Within the two sets of korbanot, there are also allowances made for a varying degree of financial output. A cow or ox is more pricy than a sheep or a goat. The olah menu allows for the offering of poultry. This would suggest that the Torah appreciates that not everyone can or wishes to spend the money on a large animal and therefore the options for a smaller sacrifice exist.
As stated above, the Torah also delineates various forms of mincha or meal offerings. We may suggest that this possibility also exists due to financial considerations. An offering made from flour and a few other minor ingredients is naturally less expensive than an animal sacrifice. However, if that were the case, we would expect the order found in the Torah to parallel the financial undertaking of the person bringing the sacrifice. We would then expect to find the sequence olah, shelamim, mincha or burned animal, partially eaten animal and only then meal offering. This is not in fact the case. The mincha is placed in between the olah and shelamim which negates our theory. It also raises the question as to why the Torah would interrupt the discussion of animal sacrifices with the description of the mincha.
It is possible that our theory about financial considerations is not incorrect but requires modification. An interesting point about the mincha is that, like the olah, it is considered “kodshei kadashim”, a sacrifice with a highest level of sanctity. This is as opposed to the shelamim which is considered “kadashim kalim”. We can therefore justify the order of the Torah; it lists the free will offerings in decreasing order of kedusha. The olah comes before the mincha as it is completely burnt on the mizbeach whilst the remnants of the mincha are eaten by the Kohanim. Following this is the shelamim which, as mentioned above, is graded in a lower kedusha level.
We also note that levels of kedusha seem to be based on the ratio between altar and human consumption. That which has more components partaken of by man is considered less sacred than an offering which is predominantly or entirely consumed by the mizbeach. This brings us back to our earlier theory. The financial output of a mincha is, in some ways greater than that of a shelamim. True, the cow or sheep is considerably more expensive that the meal offering. However, because the owner eats parts of the shelamim it is considered a more of a festive meal and less of a sacrifice in the classical sense. (An example of the shelamim is the korban chagiga, brought on a festival and serving as the source of the family meat meal.) The mincha, on the other hand, does not provide the owner with any culinary benefits – it is therefore ranked higher on the sanctity rating.
Interestingly, the passage describing the mincha offering opens with the words “venefesh ki takriv” and a soul who brings close (Vayikra 2:1). This is somewhat surprising as the parsha begins with the words “adam ki yakriv” and continues to introduce each particular sacrifice with the word “ve’im”. This implies that following the introductory lines, the Torah then lists the different options for the free will offering; if it be a sheep, if it be a shelamim etc. Why then would the Torah change this syntax and introduce the mincha section with the words “venesh ki takriv”?
Rashi, quotes Massechet Menachot which explains that “nefesh” is only found in relation to the mincha because:
“It is the way of a poor person to donate a mincha and therefore The Almighty says, I consider it as if he has sacrificed his soul (nafsho)”.
This implies that even though the animal sacrifice is physically greater, a meal offering often brought by one who has few means is considered to be just as acceptable or even more so to God.
We suggest that there is a further reason as to why the two options of sacrifice exist. By bringing part of one’s own possessions and placing it before God to be consumed at the altar we demonstrate that we are subservient to Hashem and that what we own ultimately belongs to him. This is particularly pertinent when we do so with such crucial aspects of physical existence. In an agricultural society, some may be shepherds or owners of herds of cows while others may produce crops from the fields. A herdsman would show his love for God by sacrificing his cow or sheep. A farmer may do the same by donating part of his flour as a meal offering. In fact this reminds us of the very first gifts presented to God, those of Kayin and Hevel. Each brought an example of their wares to Hashem and the accepted gift was not necessarily the larger or more expensive but rather that brought with the correct intentions.
Another aspect represented by the two types of sacrifice is the various forms of food that we eat. A typical meal consists of foods from both the animal and vegetable kingdoms. We therefore show Hashem to be the King of Kings in these two areas of our mundane existence – animal and vegetable, olah and mincha.
Although we do not bring korbanot today, we can relate to many of the ideas which they represent. It is these notions and concepts, as well as our yearning for the renewal of the avodah in the Bet Mikdash, which should be our focus as we once again begin to read Sefer Vayikra.