“It is a burnt offering, a gift, of pleasing odor to the Lord.” (Lev. 1:13)
I have always found this verse quite weird. Does HaShem really like the smell of burnt meat?
Maimonides thought not. He believed HaShem did not necessarily appreciate animal sacrifice, or else people might assume they were feeding HaShem. Moreover, today hardly any liberal Jew would want a return to animal sacrifice. The practice is seen as cruel to animals, and smacks of superstition.
So why bother to read the exhaustive instructions for such sacrifice today? Is it purely a matter of historical interest, a way to sit back and say, “Boy are we lucky we don’t sacrifice animals any more”?
If so, that tone of self-congratulation may be out of place. It is not as if trying to be close to HaShem has disappeared. We may no longer expect that HaShem is thrilled to consume the smell of our barbecue, but we hope HaShem will listen to our prayers.
The connection through the centuries has been the spirit of offering. As Debi Buckland once put it, “Imagine you have been invited to a birthday party. Do you bring the absolute cheapest present you pull out of a drawer or do you consider what the celebrant might enjoy? Do you present the gift in a department store bag or do you meticulously wrap the gift?”
The sacrifices mentioned in the Book of Leviticus reflect the later choices rather than the former. The very best, unblemished animals are reserved for sacrifice. The process of a sacrifice and the intention behind it (expiation, elevation, for example) is laid out in careful detail.
In reading Leviticus we can ask ourselves what we are really offering, our intention behind the offering, and whether we are really offering the best of ourselves.
Questions for discussion: What sorts of offerings can we make today that maintain the spirit of offering we read about in Leviticus?