Vayikrah-Offerings

The sacrifices mentioned in our parsha (Vayikrah) possess two unique qualities: they emit a pleasant aroma, and they do not seem to profit anybody, not even those who bring them. Rashi (Lev 1:9) says that the pleasant aroma does not even refer to a physical smell that we might enjoy, but to the pleasure that God derives from the offering, since, “He said, and His will was done.”  But, if this is the case, then Rashi’s explanation should have been mentioned the first time that the “pleasant aroma” occurred in the Torah – regarding Noah after he left the ark and offered sacrifices (Gen 8:20).  However, there Rashi mentions nothing.  Why does he wait until our parsha to offer his explanation of the “pleasant aroma?”

We might surmise that regarding Noah, there was no need for Rashi to comment, since it was self-explanatory.  Noah emerged from the ark and re-greeted the creation with great elation and gratitude, and therefore he offered sacrifices, and God likewise accepted Noah’s offering with pleasure.  However, in our parsha, there is no obvious reason why the sacrifices should give God pleasure, and that is why Rashi sees fit to comment.  On the surface of it, what is the difference between the sacrifices and all the other 613 mitzvoth, about which no “aroma” is mentioned whatsoever?  To this, Rashi explains that regarding sacrifices, “I said, and my will was done.”  Obviously, Rashi wants to tell us something unique about sacrifices…

Although it is not the task of Rashi to explain the mitzvoth (he took it upon himself to explain the simple meaning of the text, not the mitzvoth), here there is a blatant need to offer some sort of explanation. For, the sacrifices are not a small detail of the Torah, they are a very significant portion.  Moreover, they seem opposed to reason, for why should a Jew offer his animal only in order to have it slaughtered?  And why should God derive pleasure from this?  To this, Rashi says simply, “…because I said.”  This is a decree without an explanation.

But if so, how are sacrifices any different from all other chukim, or Torah “decrees” that lack explanation?  Moreover, we do not find that the Torah describes any of the other chukim as having a nice aroma?  So, we have to say that there is a difference.  Perhaps the difference is that the other chukim have reasons but we do not know what they are, while sacrifices lack any explanation whatsoever, not even one that we are unaware of…

But according to Rashi (in Ex 15:26), the chukim are “mitzvoth without any explanation” – and that applies to all chukim, whether the sacrifices or any other chok.  None of them have any reason whatsoever. So, we must look further in order to understand the special nature of sacrifices.  Ultimately, our explanation comes from Rashi himself, from his choice of words.  He says that the God has pleasure because, “I said, and my will was done.”  Why does Rashi use the passive sense (“was done” rather than “you did”)?  And why does he say, “I said,” rather than “I decreed,” or “I commanded,” since here we are talking about a command?

Regarding any other chok, or decree without a reason, we at least experience a connection with the Creator and Commander of the mitzvah.  We know that He commanded us not to eat unkosher food, or not to where shatnez, for example.  And the awareness that He commanded us and that we are fulfilling His command forms a connection between ourselves and God.  So, even though we have no explanation for the mitzvah, we nevertheless benefit from the fact that He commanded us.

However, the language that Rashi uses regarding sacrifices indicates not that “we” must bring the sacrifices, but that they must be “brought.”  It may be that only man can bring the offerings, but that is incidental – the main thing is that they are “brought,” that God becomes aware of them, whether through us as the agents or through any other possible means.  So, even though we may bring the sacrifices, we lack the connection that is provided by other chukim.  That’s why Rashi writes “was done,” rather than “you did.”

For the same reason, Rashi writes, “I said…”  He could have written, “I commanded,” or “I decreed,” but since he wrote “I said,” we know that God did not give us the sacrifices as a command or decree in the same way as He commanded the other mitzvoth.  The sacrifices are simply something that has to “get done,” and that’s what sets them off from other mitzvoth and in particular from other chukim – other chukim lack a reason (that we know of) but at least they allow us to form a conscious connection with the One above.  But, sacrifices force us to do the mitzvah (because there is no other way they can be done aside from through our effort and involvement) even without a conscious connection with God.  This mitzvah is about God, not about man.

And that may be why Rashi does not mention the “aroma” the first time it is mentioned in the Torah, in parshat Noah.  He explains it in our parsha, regarding the nedava, or voluntary offering that man brings.  Since it is voluntary, it is the purest instance of man doing a mitzvah with no selfish intent whatsoever, but simply for the One above, to create a “pleasant aroma” for Him regardless of any human involvement whatsoever.

For a longer more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 32, page 7-12

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