This week the focus of the Torah reading shifts from the construction of the Mishkan to the korbanot, one (but only one) of the purposes of building the Mishkan in the first place and its successor the Beit Hamikdash.

 

While many reading these words will likely associate the sentence above with the opening of the sefer Vayikra, they could - and do, also refer to the maftir for Parshat Hachodesh which will also be read this week. Unlike the details of the korbanot in sefer Vayikra, the details of the pascal lamb are well known. That we must take a lamb on the tenth of Nissan, slaughter it on the 14th (the source of the law that all sacrifices are to be examined for four days before they are brought to the altar) and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts (the precursor to the mitzva of mezuzah). The lamb is to be barbequed, eaten in haste along with the matza and marror. We must not break any bones of the animal while at the same time ensuring there are no leftovers. 

 

Yet it is not only familiarity that distinguishes the korban pesach from other korbanot. “And G-d called Moshe...speak to the people of Israel and tell them, adam, a person, when he brings an offering”...(Vayikra 1:1-2). Sacrifices may be offered by all peoples in the Temple which is a house of prayer for all nations. Sacrifices, at least in Biblical times, were how man drew closer to G-d. The korban pesach on the other hand, may only be brought by those who affirm their place amongst the Jewish people. Hence a non- Jew or even a Jewish who is an arel, who foregoes the mitzva of brit milah marking our covenant with G-d, may not partake of the korban

 

While korbanot in general centered around the house of G-d, the korban pesach centered around the house of man. The word bayit, home, appears over and over again in regard to the korban pesach. If korbanotare meant to strengthen our relationship with G-d the korban pesach is meant to strengthen our relationship with our family. The korban pesachis meant to turn our residence into a home, a safe haven where we develop our values and pass them on to our children. One may not eat the korban in two places, effectively disallowing one to quickly eat with one’s family and go over to friends, a most common occurrence amongst children who are the main focus of the seder. “It is a Passover offering to G-d, for He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians, and saved our homes”(Shemot 12:27). Our homes with the help of G-d are both our physical haven and spiritual incubator.  

 

With the focus on home and family, the korban pesach, unlike other korbanot, is brought so that it may be eaten. Amongst other korbanot, eating - on those occasions where it is even allowed - is a secondary function and if not eaten the korban remains valid. “Five sacrifices are brought when the people are tameh, unprepared[1], but may not be eaten in tumah...the pascal sacrifice that is brought in tumahmay be eaten in tumah, for it was only originally brought so that it may be eaten” (Mishna Pesachim 7:4).

 

The Netziv (Devarim 15:3) points out that the korban pesach is the only korban never referred to as a reich nichoch[2], a pleasing smell to G-d. Its purpose is not directed heavenly but to strengthening our bond with family and community. 

 

What is common to all korbanot is the importance of time. The command to take the pascal lamb is preceded by the command to set up a calendar. All korbanot have very specific time periods in which they may be eaten and eating a korban after the allotted time, a seemingly minor infraction of Jewish law, carries the penalty of karet, excision. Not surprisingly the korban pesach may be brought only after we have rid our homes from all chametz i.e in the afternoon. It is to be eaten with matza they symbol of alacrity towards mitzvoth. Tellingly, this prohibition of chametz extends to all korbanot all year round “any meal offering that you sacrifice to G-d you shall not make chametz” (Vayikra 2:11).

 

And while on the surface korbanot serve as a mechanism by which we may come closer to G-d in reality all korbanot are modeled after the korban pesach. We can only come closer to G-d if we are close to man. G-d does not seek the aroma of the korban when there is hatred, divisiveness, social inequities, and apathy amongst and towards Jews. It is no wonder we begin the seder by welcoming the poor to our homes or that the laws of Passover begin with the obligation to ensure the needs of others are met. That is reich nicoch, a most beautiful smell both for man and G-d. Shabbat Shalom!


[1] I prefer to translate tumah as unprepared as opposed to its usual translation of impure. What tumah signifies is that one is not in the proper state of mind to come to the Temple and offer sacrifices. Either one was unfocused allowing themselves to come in contact with tumah, or they purposely came into contact with tumah by going to a funeral in which case they need time to recover to enter the Temple with the requisite feeling of joy. As the Mishna teaches there are exceptions to the general prohibition of entering the Temple in a state of tumah.

 

[2] It is because of this omission that the possibility exists of bringing the korban pesach even without a Temple. “I will lay your cites in wasted and destroy your Temples and I will not savor your satisfying aromas” (Vayikra 26:31). G-d does not want our (meaningless) sacrifices - they give off a “foul odor”. The korban pesach focused on our homes may be offered even if we have blunted the smell of other korbanot