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The parsha introduces us to the various types of sacrificial offerings. The offerings basically fall into two categories, the animal sacrifices and the meal offerings. The Gemarah teaches us that every animal sacrifice was accompanied by a meal offering. We may ask, what moral or ethical teaching is the Torah conveying by requiring us to bring these two types of offerings together.
The Midrash notes the contrast between the hands of a newborn baby and that of one who has just died. When a baby is born its hands are tightly clenched, whereas the hands of a corpse lay lifelessly wide open. The Midrash explains that a newborn fools himself into believing that he has the power to conquer the world. This is symbolized with his tightly clenched hands. It is as if he were saying that he will take hold and seize this world. However, when that individual dies, those same hands lay wide open in acknowledgement of the fact that he has taken absolutely nothing from this world.
We may borrow from the above the notion that an open hand is symbolic of death and a tightly clenched hand is symbolic of life.
When one brings an animal sacrifice, the fourth service performed is the application of blood. The Torah requires that the kohen throw the blood on the altar. This is accomplished by the kohen flicking open his hands as he projects the blood forward. It is noteworthy that the movement of his hand goes from closed to open. The end result is an open hand, which is symbolic of death.
In contrast to an animal sacrifice the meal offering is just the opposite. Here the unique service is kemizah. The kohen is required to clench his fists tightly around the flour in a unique way. Here his hands move from an open to a closed position. The end result is the closed position, which is symbolic of life.
The commentators explain that when we offer animal sacrifices, we acknowledge that in truth it is we who deserve to sacrifice ourselves as punishment of our sins. However, Hashem allowed us to bring an animal in our place. We derive from this that an animal sacrifice is in place of death. It is therefore fitting that opening the hand, which is also symbolic of death, be the method in which the sacrificeís unique service be performed. In contrast to an animal sacrifice, a meal offering is brought from bread, which is the main staple of life. We convey with our meal offering that we wish to amend our evil ways and serve Hashem with the life He has given us here in this world. We may derive from this that the nature of the meal offering is life. It is therefore appropriate that we offer it with the movement of our hands from open to close, which is also symbolic of life.
We can now address our original question. What is the Torah trying to convey by requiring us to offer a meal offering together with every animal sacrifice? The answer is that we demonstrate that we are willing to serve Hashem in the most extreme situations. If need be, we are willing to give up our life as symbolized with the animal sacrifice and the opening of our hand.
More importantly with our meal offering and the closing of the hand we acknowledge that we are willing to serve Hashem with our life here in this world by performing the commandment that we are instructed.
Furthermore, we may note that there is also the category of the bird offering. Generally the one who bring such an offering is the poor man who cannot afford an animal. It is interesting that the application of the birdís blood is done through squeezing. Here we have the combination of the closing of the hand with the throwing of blood. The closing of the hand is symbolic of life. The throwing of blood is symbolic of death.
The Gemara tells us that a poor man is considered dead. Indeed, we see that here. Even the poor manís clenching of the fist, which is symbolic of his life, is performed only to bring about the loss of blood and life in the bird. Indeed the Gemara states that the offering of the poor man has extremely great value before Hashem due to his difficult situation in life. Perhaps, the Torah requires this unusual combination only so that the rich man observe and note the great symbolic difference between himself and the poor man and thus be inspired to alleviate the poor manís suffering.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001