Vayikra 1:1 – 5:26 [HebCal] [על-התורה] ויקרא א א-ה כו
Haftarah: Yeshayahu 43:21-44:23 (Sefardi and Ashkenazi) | Yeshayahu 43:21-44:6 (Teimani) | Unless it is Shabbat Zachor or Shabbat ha-Chodesh
[על-התורה] הפטרה: ישעיהו מג כא-מד כב (ספרדים ואשכנזים) | ישעיהו מג כא-מד (תימנים)
- Overview of Parashat Vayikra
- Olah – עולה
- Mincha – מנחה
- Shelamim – שלמים
- Chatat – חטאת
- Asham – אשם
- Summary of the Korbanot in Parashat Vayikra
- Haftarah Summary: עם זו יצרתי
This parsha opens Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus), the third book of the Written Torah (תורה שבכתב). Like the modern Hebrew terms for the five books of the Torah, Parashat Vayikra takes its name from the first characteristic word of this section of text, va-yikra – וַיִּקְרָא, “He [Hashem] called.” So, once again, both the parsha and the sefer (book) have the same name.
In terms of what has happened in the narrative just prior to Parashat Vayikra, in Pekudei, the closing parsha of Sefer Shemot (Exodus): Bnei Yisrael have just experienced the completion and consecration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Anan Hashem, the pillar of cloud, descends upon the Mishkan, turning into a pillar of fire at night.
Overview of Parashat Vayikra
The subject of Parashat Vayikra is korbanot (sacrifices), continuing into the next parsha, Tzav. However, in Parashat Vayikra the korbanot are described from an “outside” perspective (with respect to the Mishkan), that of the bringer of the offering, while in Parashat Tzav, these korbanot are described from an “internal” perspective of how they are processed in the Mishkan.
Importantly, the term korban (singular of korbanot) is derived from the root for “close,” as in nearby, both literally and figuratively. (In modern Hebrew, karov means “close” or “relative,” as in extended family member.) The conventional English translation “sacrifice” is accurate in the meaning of its Latinate root: “bearing holiness.” It is not, however, much like the colloquial meaning of “to sacrifice (one’s time, oneself, etc.).”
Parashat Vayikra discusses five major types of korbanot, which include the four kinds of zevachim (animal korbanot) and the Mincha (grain offering). In their order of appearance:
- Olah – עולה – the burnt offering
- Mincha – מנחה – the meal offering
- Shelamim – שלמים – the peace offering
- Hatat – חטאת – the sin offering
- Asham – אשם – the guilt offering
In Tzav, the next parsha, we will see the Torah indicating which korbanot are kodesh kodashim, of the highest degree of sanctity. The concept of kodesh kodashim is mentioned in our parsha, in Vayikra 2:3, but is not yet explained or applied.1
Olah – עולה
The first type of sacrifice discussed is Olah or burnt offering, so called because it was wholly burned on the altar and none of it was consumed by the kohanim (priests), as was the case with the other types of korbanot.2 The Hebrew root of the term Olah pertains to ascent—literally, as in going up.
Korban Olah could be brought either from a herd of cattle, a flock of sheep or goats, but must be an unblemished male animal, or else a bird, either a turtledove () or a pigeon ().3 There are specifics of how the particular animal is to be selected in each category. Then, there are detailed instructions for how the korban is to be offered, including where it is slaughtered in relationship to the altar (of the Mishkan), what to do with its blood, what needs to get washed, and how it should be burned on the altar:4
וְסָמַךְ יָדוֹ עַל רֹאשׁ הָעֹלָה וְנִרְצָה לוֹ לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו: וְשָׁחַט אֶת בֶּן הַבָּקָר לִפְנֵי יְהוָה וְהִקְרִיבוּ בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֲנִים אֶת הַדָּם וְזָרְקוּ אֶת הַדָּם עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ סָבִיב אֲשֶׁר פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד. ו וְהִפְשִׁיט אֶת הָעֹלָה וְנִתַּח אֹתָהּ לִנְתָחֶיהָ: וְנָתְנוּ בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן אֵשׁ עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְעָרְכוּ עֵצִים עַל הָאֵשׁ: וְעָרְכוּ בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֲנִים אֵת הַנְּתָחִים אֶת הָרֹאשׁ וְאֶת הַפָּדֶר עַל הָעֵצִים אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאֵשׁ אֲשֶׁר עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ: וְקִרְבּוֹ וּכְרָעָיו יִרְחַץ בַּמָּיִם וְהִקְטִיר הַכֹּהֵן אֶת הַכֹּל הַמִּזְבֵּחָה עֹלָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ לַיהוָה.
You shall lay a hand upon the head of the burnt offering, that it may be acceptable in your behalf, in expiation for you. The bull shall be slaughtered before Hashem; and Aharon’s sons, the priests, shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar which is at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into sections. The sons of Aharon the priest shall put fire on the altar and lay out wood upon the fire; and Aharon’s sons, the priests, shall lay out the sections, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar. 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 Hashem.Vayikra 1:4-9
This procedure, for a bull, is repeated for the case of a ram, and then the procedure for the bird is detailed:
וְהִקְרִיבוֹ הַכֹּהֵן אֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וּמָלַק אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ וְהִקְטִיר הַמִּזְבֵּחָה וְנִמְצָה דָמוֹ עַל קִיר הַמִּזְבֵּחַ: וְהֵסִיר אֶת מֻרְאָתוֹ בְּנֹצָתָהּ וְהִשְׁלִיךְ אֹתָהּ אֵצֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ קֵדְמָה אֶל מְקוֹם הַדָּשֶׁן: וְשִׁסַּע אֹתוֹ בִכְנָפָיו לֹא יַבְדִּיל וְהִקְטִיר אֹתוֹ הַכֹּהֵן הַמִּזְבֵּחָה עַל הָעֵצִים אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאֵשׁ עֹלָה הוּא אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַה’:
The priest shall bring it to the altar, pinch off its head, and turn it into smoke on the altar; and its blood shall be drained out against the side of the altar. He shall remove its crop with its contents, and cast it into the place of the ashes, at the east side of the altar. The priest shall tear it open by its wings, without severing it, and turn it into smoke on the altar, upon the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, an offering by fire, of pleasing odor to Hashem.Vayikra 1:15-17
These procedures are paradigmatic, and upon them the procedures for other types of korbanot build. These will be discussed from the kohen’s perspective in the next parsha, Tzav. The Korban Olah is discussed in the Talmud in Zevachim (the tractate devoted to animal korbanot) as well as in Tamid (the tractate devoted to the daily service in Beit ha-Mikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem), among other places.
Mincha – מנחה
The next korban addressed is the Mincha offering.5 The Mincha offering consists of fine flour (solet). As with the Olah, there are several acceptable ways it may be offered. First, it can be offered as unbaked solet, fine flour. A Mincha can also be baked in an oven (tanur), cooked on a griddle (machvat), or baked in a pan (marcheshet). Further, the baked Mincha might consist of loaves (challot) or of crackers/wafers (rekik). For each, there are directions about including oil and, in some cases, levona (frankincense).
In contrast to the ‘Olah, the Korban Mincha is only partially offered on the altar, with the rest being consumed by the kohanim. Importantly, it is noted that the Korban Mincha must include salt and may not be leavened or sweetened with honey—probably not meaning bee’s honey, but fruit honey, like today’s silan, a sweet syrup made from dates. Then, this reading goes on to talk about Mincha brought from Bikkurim (First Fruits), another form.
The Korban Mincha is the subject of the Talmud tractate Menachot (menahot is a plural of mincha).
Shelamim – שלמים
The next type of korban discussed in the parsha is Shelamim, the peace offering, from the Hebrew root for “whole.”6 Shelamim can be brought from a herd of cattle, or a flock of sheep or goats. The specifics of selecting the animal are different from Korbat Olah: it may be cattle, sheep, or goat (like the Olah, but without the bird option), and may be either male of female (unlike the Olah, which must be a male animal). As with the Olah, the bringer of the korban lays their hands on it, the kohen slaughters it, and its blood is dashed on all sides of the Mizbeach. The details of how the fats and kidneys are burned on the altar are then discussed:
וְהִקְרִיב מִזֶּבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים אִשֶּׁה לַה’ אֶת הַחֵלֶב הַמְכַסֶּה אֶת הַקֶּרֶב וְאֵת כָּל הַחֵלֶב אֲשֶׁר עַל הַקֶּרֶב: וְאֵת שְׁתֵּי הַכְּלָיֹת וְאֶת הַחֵלֶב אֲשֶׁר עֲלֵהֶן אֲשֶׁר עַל הַכְּסָלִים וְאֶת הַיֹּתֶרֶת עַל הַכָּבֵד עַל הַכְּלָיוֹת יְסִירֶנָּה: וְהִקְטִירוּ אֹתוֹ בְנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַמִּזְבֵּחָה עַל הָעֹלָה אֲשֶׁר עַל הָעֵצִים אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאֵשׁ אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַה’:
Then present from the sacrifice of well-being, as an offering by fire to Hashem, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is about the entrails; the two kidneys and the fat that is on them, that is at the loins; and the protuberance on the liver, which you shall remove with the kidneys.7 Aaron’s sons shall turn these into smoke on the altar, with the burnt offering which is upon the wood that is on the fire, as an offering by fire, of pleasing odor to Hashem.Vayikra 3:3-5
A subtype of Shelamim, Korban Todah or the thanksgiving offering, will be discussed in the next parsha, Tzav. As well, there are communal Shelmamim, not discussed here. In the Oral Torah (תורה שבעל פה), Korban Shelamim is discussed in Masechet Zevachim, as well as in Beitzah 19a-20b, in connection with Yom Tov (holiday) sacrifices.
Chatat – חטאת
The parsha now turns to Chatat, usually translated as “sin offering,” brought in the event of unintentional transgression (shegaga – שְׁגָגָה) of a negative commandment—a “don’t do this” instruction (mitzvah lo taaseh – מצוה לא תעשה – or as it appears in the text here, מִצְוֹת ה’ אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵעָשֶׂינָה). When it becomes known to the transgressor that they transgressed, they are liable to bring this korban. The specifics of this type of korban are notably different from the ones detailed above, in that the blood is sprinkled from the finger of the kohen, is placed on the horns of the Mizbeach (altar), with the rest poured out at the base of the altar:
וְטָבַל הַכֹּהֵן אֶת אֶצְבָּעוֹ בַּדָּם וְהִזָּה מִן הַדָּם שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים לִפְנֵי ה’ אֶת פְּנֵי פָּרֹכֶת הַקֹּדֶשׁ: וְנָתַן הַכֹּהֵן מִן הַדָּם עַל קַרְנוֹת מִזְבַּח קְטֹרֶת הַסַּמִּים לִפְנֵי ה’ אֲשֶׁר בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וְאֵת כָּל דַּם הַפָּר יִשְׁפֹּךְ אֶל יְסוֹד מִזְבַּח הָעֹלָה אֲשֶׁר פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד: …אֶת עוֹר הַפָּר וְאֶת כָּל בְּשָׂרוֹ עַל רֹאשׁוֹ וְעַל כְּרָעָיו וְקִרְבּוֹ וּפִרְשׁוֹ: וְהוֹצִיא אֶת כָּל הַפָּר אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה אֶל מָקוֹם טָהוֹר אֶל שֶׁפֶךְ הַדֶּשֶׁן וְשָׂרַף אֹתוֹ עַל עֵצִים בָּאֵשׁ :עַל שֶׁפֶךְ הַדֶּשֶׁן יִשָּׂרֵף
The priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before Hashem, in front of the curtain of the Shrine. The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of aromatic incense, which is in the Tent of Meeting, before Hashem; and all the rest of the bull’s blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering, which is at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting… The hide of the bull, and all its flesh, as well as its head and legs, its entrails and its dung—all the rest of the bull—he shall carry to a pure place outside the camp, to the ash heap, and burn it up in a wood fire; it shall be burned on the ash heap.Vayikra 4:6-7, 11-12
Chatat: According to who Committed the Transgression
Also, there is a difference in procedure if the need for a Chatat was incurred by a kohen, by the community (Adat Bnei Yisrael – עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל), by a Nasi (head of a tribe), or by an ordinary individual. In the first two cases, a bull is brought. A Nasi brings a male goat and an individual brings a female goat or a female sheep.
Asham – אשם
The next type of korban discussed is Asham. This korban is usually translated as “guilt offering,” and is differentiated from the “sin offering” described previously. However, both Chatat and Asham, by definition, deal with unintentional errors. What distinguishes a Chatat from Asham? This question is treated in depth in Keritot (the plural of karet), the Talmud tractate dealing with offenses subject to karet, or the divine punishment of excision.8 Generally speaking, the Asham pertains to uncertain transgressions11 and in Bemidbar.12
The Asham is processed like a Chatat (per the Torah); the kohen dips his finger in its blood and spreads it on the horns of the Mizbeach.
Asham Talui – אשם תלוי
Another grouping of the Korban Asham is then presented, which consists of: if a person is unsure whether they unintentionally transgresses with regard to a negative commandment, that is, one that they knew was prohibited, and then realizes that they may have transgressed. This is known by Chazal as Asham Talui.
Asham: A variable Offering According to Means, korban oleh ve-yored
In addition, it’s noteworthy that the commandments of Korban Asham include a provision for those whose means do not enable them to bring a sheep or goat. This is known by Chazal (though not termed so here in the Torah) as a korban oleh ve-yored (קורבן עולה ויורד), or a “variable sacrifice”; in this case, one may bring two birds instead. If a person does not have the means to bring any of the acceptable animals for Korban Chatat, they may bring a measure of fine flour.
Asham Requiring Restitution
Now, the Torah turns to the important question of what restitution a person must make against another he has harmed materially, before bringing a korban to the kohanim. More details are also added here about the case of an Asham brought for misuse of consecrated things (the term for misappropriations is meila – מעילה). The restitution is generally a portion of the principal that was misappropriated.
Summary of the Korbanot in Parashat Vayikra
➡️ For a comprehensive, multitiered spreadsheet of korbanot, see this resource made available by Naftali Willner.
|Type of Korban||Consists of||Occasions||Notes|
|Olah – עֹלָה||• Cattle – male 🐂|
• Sheep or goat – male 🐏
• Bird – turtledove (tor – תֹּר) or pigeon (yona – יּוֹנָה) 🕊️
|Not specified here||Animal must be unblemished|
|Mincha – מִנְחָה||Solet – סֹלֶת (fine flour, raw) 🌾|
+ oil and levona (לְבֹנָה – frankincense), either:
• Baked in an oven (maafeh tanur – מַאֲפֵה תַנּוּר)
• Cooked on a griddle (machvat – מַּחֲבַת)
• Cooked in a pan (marcheshet – מַרְחֶשֶׁת)
|When brought from the first harvest (bikkurim – בִּכּוּרִים), must be “new ears parched with fire, grits of the fresh grain” (אָבִיב קָלוּי בָּאֵשׁ גֶּרֶשׂ כַּרְמֶל)||• Must be offered with salt (melach – מֶלַח)|
• May not be leavened (chametz – חָמֵץ)13
• May not be made with devash – דְּבַשׁ (fruit honey)
|Shelamim – שְׁלָמִים||• Cattle – male or female 🐂🐄|
• Sheep or goat, male or female of either 🐑🐐
|Votive (voluntary, when one is moved to bring it)||Animal must be unblemished|
|Chatat||• Kohen Gadol (High Priest) = bull 🐂|
• Edat Yisrael (the community) = bull 🐂
• Nasi (leader) = male goat 🐐
• Individual = female goat or female sheep 🐑
|Upon realizing the unintentional transgression of a negative commandment||Animal must be unblemished|
|Asham (general)||• Ram 🐏||Uncertain unintentional transgression of a negative commandments||Animal must be unblemished|
|Asham (variable)||• Female sheep or female goat 🐑|
• Or: 2 turtledoves, or 2 pigeons 🕊️🕊️
• Or: 1/10 ephah of solet 🌾
Uncertain unintentional transgression of a negative commandments
|Animal must be unblemished|
|Asham (misappropriation)||• from consecrated items = ram 🐏 + 1/5 value|
• other misappropriation or dishonest testimony = ram 🐏 + 1/5 of value in question
|Misappropriation||Animal must be unblemished|
Haftarah Summary: עם זו יצרתי
[Yeshayahu 43:21 – 44:23]
Interestingly, the haftarah for Parashat Vayikra, from Yeshayahu, both chastises Yisrael for failing to bring korbanot, and also emphasizes that it is not the korbanot per se, but Hashem, who redeems those in need of redemption. This is underscored by the haftarah’s focus on the craftsmanship of human hands who fashion idols, which cannot redeem.
Image: Palatina Library, Italy, Ms. Parm. 3079, fol. 14v. This page shows the beginnging of Sefer Vaטikra כrom a 12th-13th-century Ashkenazi manuscript of the Torah and haftarot. The text in the column on the left is Mikra (Hebrew text of the Bible), while the column on the right is the Targum (authoritative Aramaic translation of the Mikra). The vowels and cantillations marks are present throughout.
- The phrase also occurs many times in Sefer Shemot, but in reference to the inner chamber of the Mishkan, not to korbanot.
- In the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint(a), Olah is termed ὁλοκαυτεῖν, holocaust, from which the term for the genocide of European Jews by the Nazis is taken (obviously, a highly theological term).
- In a sense, this is a variable offering, in that one who needed to bring an Olah could select among these options, from most expensive (male cattle) to least expensive (a pair of birds). However, below, in the section on the Asham or guilt offering, there will be an explicit provision of declining expense for those who need to bring Asham. This variable Asham is what gets termed by Hazal korban oleh ve-yored, a variable offering.
- For diagrams of the Mishkan and its instruments, see the reconstructions made by the Temple Institute.
- Although a Mincha could be brought at any time of the day, it is indeed this offering that lends its name to the afternoon prayer service, which was instituted in memory of the service of korbanot in Beit ha-Mikdash (the Jerusalem Temple) after the Churban (the destruction of the Second Temple).
- This is the same root as the word shalom, peace, which is why this korban is often translated as “peace offering.” But, see Rashbam on Vayikra 3:1, where he suggests it has the semantic value of “payment” from the same root. Another possible translation is “free-will offering.”
- In the special case of the sheep, which has a fatty tail, the Torah specifies that “the fat from the sacrifice of well-being: the whole broad tail, which you shall remove close to the backbone” is also offered at this juncture.
- Specifically, Keritot deals with the question of the distinction between Chatat and Asham Talui, a kind of Asham that is conditional.
- See Ibn Ezra on Vayikra 5:17.9—when a person is not sure whether or not they’ve transgressed—and improper behavior, namely concerning consecrated items and oaths/testimonies.
Transgressions that require bringing an Asham include:
- transgressions one knows are wrong but commits unintentionally;
- when a person touches something that is tamei (ritually impure) and later realizes it;
- when a person makes an oath, forgets their oath, and then remembers it; when a person unintentionally transgresses with regard to consecrated objects.
Other types of Asham are described later in Sefer Vayikra10On the Asham brought by metzora, one afflicted by Tzaraat, a physical/spiritual malady often translated as leprosy, as part of their purification process, see Vayikra 14:10-32; on the Asham brought a man who has slept with a betrothed bondswoman (shifcha harufa), see Vayikra 19:20-22.
- For the Asham brought by a defiled nazir, one who takes a voluntary vow, see Bemidbar 6:9-12; for more on the Asham brought for gezeila, stealing property no longer in one’s possession, see Bemidbar 5:5-8.
- There are exceptions: namely, korbanot that must be leavened, but those are not yet given here,