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Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When a person from among you will bring an offering to Hashem: from the animals, from the cattle and from the flocks you shall bring your offering (Vayikrah 1:2).
In this week’s parsha we learn about the laws of animal sacrifices.
The commentators discuss the reason we are commanded to bring animal sacrifices. The Rambam in moreh nevuchim writes that the purpose of animal sacrifice is to reject idolatry. In ancient times the Egyptians worshiped lambs. The Kasdiyim worshiped goats and the people of Hodo worshiped cattle. By sacrificing these animal gods we reject this type of idolatry.
The Ramban disagrees with this reason and explains that we bring animal sacrifices as a way to come close to Hashem. Furthermore, when we offer these sacrifices we provide Hashem with satisfaction that we have done His will.
The Meshech Chachmah suggests a compromise between the opinions of the Rambam and the Ramban. The sacrifices that were offered outside the Beis Hamikdash on private altars, at times when such altars were permitted, were offered as a rejection of idolatry as in the opinion of the Rambam. However, the sacrifices that were offered in the Beis Hamikdash were for the purpose of giving Hashem satisfaction and served as a way for us to come close to Hashem as in the opinion of the Ramban.
The Gemara relates that every sacrifice service has four essential parts. They are: 1) the slaughtering of the animal, 2) receiving the blood from the neck of the animal in a holy utensil, 3) conveying the blood to the altar and 4) applying the blood to the altar. The Gemarah discusses at great length the laws of each one of these essential services as they relate to the various sacrifices.
It is noteworthy that the first service is significantly different from the other three. The slaughtering of the animal may be performed even by a non-kohen whereas the other three may only be performed by kohanim.
We may suggest a compromise between the Ramban and the Rambam by suggesting that the first service of slaughtering the animal serves as rejection of idolatry as in the opinion of the Rambam; whereas the other three that relate to the blood are services that are done in order to come close to Hashem as explained by the Ramban.
We may prove this as follows: The Gemara (Chulin 30b) discusses the laws of slaughtering an animal. One important law is that the cut in the neck must be made by drawing the knife over the neck and not by the pressing it against the neck. When the knife is gently drawn over the neck, the animal is slaughtered due to the sharpness of knife. If the knife is pressed against the neck, even slightly, the slaughter is invalid because the animal has been killed through the pressure of the knife. The Gemara derives this law from the Hebrew word the Torah uses for slaughter “ve’shachat.” The Gemarah says that the word “ve-shachat” is related to the word “mashach” with is translated as “draw.” The Gemarah proves this by citing two posukim where the word “shachat” is translated as “drawn.” They are “drawn out gold” (I kings 10:16) and “Their tong is like an arrow that was shot through the drawing of the bow” (Jeremiah 9:7).
At the time when Hashem redeemed the Jewish People from Egypt the posuk says “Moshe called to the elders of Israel and said to them, draw forth and take for you yourselves of the flock of you families and slaughter the pesach offering.” The Hebrew word used here for “draw” is “mishchu,” this word has the same root letters as the word mentioned above. Chazal comment on the use of this unusual word here that Hashem commanded the Jewish people to “withdraw their hands from idolatry and instead offer a lamb to Hashem as a pesach offering.”
Thus, we learn that the Hebrew word for slaughter, “shachat” is related to “mashach” which in turn is related to Hashem’s command that we distance ourselves from idolatry.
This leads us to suggest that the first service of an animal sacrifice, namely the slaughter, serves as rejection of all forms of idolatry as the Rambam says. However, the other three services which are not found to be related to the rejection of idolatry are for the purpose of coming close to Hashem’s as explained by the Ramban.
We may now understand why the slaughter is permitted even by a non-kohen whereas the other three blood services may only be performed by kohanim. When it comes to the rejection of idolatry and all evil that it represents every individual, even non-kohanim are instructed to fulfill Hashem command and reject evil. However, when it comes to coming close to Hashem and our desire to give Hashem satisfaction we must seek the guidance of the kohanim who will teach us the correct way to do so.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004