We now embark on the journey into a sefer (Vayikra) whose first half is primarily to introduce the main korbanot that were to be brought for a variety of purposes and how this was to be done. This follows a sefer (Shemot) whose second half is focused on the building of the Mishkan and its vessels, in which and with which these korbanot were brought. There are many basic questions about the relationship between the different mitzvot: To what extent is there independent importance in having a Mishkan or is it only the setting for these korbanot (see Rambam, Beit Habechira 1:1; Sefer Hachinuch #95)? Is a structure necessary in order to have avoda (or some of it)? The p’sukim in Ezra (see Ezra 3:3 & 6:15) indicate that avoda returned to the place of the Beit Hamikdash, with the erection of an altar, years before the full structure was complete. The most prominent korbanot are those that come from animals. They come from three different species (not including birds): par (bulls), keves/ayil (sheep/rams), and ez (goats). Why were these species chosen? The Abarbanel (introduction to Sefer Vayikra) makes several suggestions, on different planes. First, on a spiritual innate plane, the Abarbanel posits that these animals are presumably special animals in regard to their constitution, essence, and/or diet. Undoubtedly, "special" is not in some scientific measure but in spiritual ways. (We note that none of these are predators, although many other animals are also not.) He also points out that these are the most common domesticated animals. He suggests that Hashem would not want to obligate the bringing of a korban from an animal that one has to hunt down and see if he can catch (without seriously wounding). That certainly is a practical reason. The Abarbanel makes two other suggestions, both on the symbolic plane. These animals can be representative of the forefathers. Avraham, the greatest forefather, is represented by the bull, which is the largest of these animals. Avraham also ran to bring a young bull to feed his visitors. The ram represents Yitzchak, as it was the second biggest species of the group. Historically, when Yitzchak was spared and not brought as a human sacrifice, he was replaced as a korban by an ayil. The goat, the least of these animals, represents Yaakov, the youngest of the forefathers. When he was disguising himself from his father, he applied the hides of goats to his arms. The final idea the Abarbanel presents is that all three of these animals are used as metaphors for Bnei Yisrael. He cites as support p’sukim throughout Tanach (Amos 4:1; Yirmiyahu 50:17; Yechezkel 34:22, respectively). The difference between the two symbolic explanations appears to be as follows. The reminder of the forefathers seems intended to arouse their merit in the eyes of Hashem. The fact that Bnei Yisrael are represented by these animals seems connected to the idea of acting as if we were giving our lives to sanctify Hashem’s Name. This follows the Ramban’s idea (Vayikra 1:9) that when bringing a korban, he should view it as if he were giving up his own life to Hashem. While it is hard to know for sure what secrets (or practicalities) are behind such holy mitzvot as korbanot, their general principles and details contain room for both simple and deep lessons.
Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua