The Torah portion (Leviticus 1:1-5:26) this week is called “Vayikra,” meaning “and He [God] called [Moses]” to give instruction regarding the bringing of animal sacrifices.
There are multiple kinds of sacrifices, all of them focused on making way for God in the physical world. “The act of offering is the process by which the soul is nullified before God and the animal soul is offered on the altar to release the divine soul,” says Dafei Tang, writing in the Times of Israel.
Tang charts the different kinds of sacrifices and shows how they add up to 1387. This is the Gematria of “darkness to light and bitterness to sweetness.” (“חֹשֶׁךְ לְאוֹר וָמָר לְמָתוֹק“)
(This expression is excerpted by Tang from Isaiah 5:20, which actually bemoans people who reverse good and evil. It joins two phrases in the verse, “darkness into light” and “bitter into sweet”: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!”)
|“olah – burnt offering”||עֹלָה||105|
|“mincha – meal offering”||מִנְחָה||103|
|“shelamim – peace offering”||שְׁלָמִים||420|
|“chatat – sin offering”||חַטָּאת||418|
|“asham – guilt offering”||אָשָׁם||341|
It’s noteworthy that 1387, which indicates transformation of a bad state to a good state, is also the numerical value of each of these Bible verses (in Hebrew):
“But the godless of heart (hypocrites) store up their resentment: they don’t cry out (for God) when He restrains (punishes) them.” – Job 36:13 — In other words, the truth always comes out; punishment of the wicked is a verdict that the rest of us will actually see.
“For He has delivered me out of all trouble: and my eyes have looked victoriously on my enemies.” – Psalms 54:7
“Let Israel hope in the Lord now and forever.” – Psalms 131:3
But what about sacrifice itself? However transformative, it seems problematic. For while not all sacrifices involved killing an animal, it’s still hard to understand this seemingly inexplicably cruel instruction—even though it was eventually replaced with “prayer, good deeds, and true repentance for wrongs committed” when the Holy Temple was destroyed.
Maimonides (known also as the “Rambam”) has a fascinating explanation in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed): that God was basically weaning the Jews off of foreign cultures: They wouldn’t have known how to worship Him any other way. See 3:32:
“But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used.”
By providing a structure and a method for proper animal sacrifice, the Jewish people could transmute the cruelty of these other cultures into a holy ritual where the true focus was self-sacrifice, the annihilation of their own animalistic drives.
This is consistent with the general Torah approach of imposing impulse control rather than asceticism on the people to channel their drives upward. A good example is the law of capturing women in war; their captor must give them time to mourn first.
It is noteworthy that the Torah states over and over again, nine times in total, that the smell of the sacrifice, animal or not, is a “pleasing odor to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9, 12; 3:5, 16; 4:31).
In effect, the repetition is a form of chanting, energizing and empowering the reader to self-sacrifice for God, even when we don’t exactly understand what we’re doing or why (as the Rebbe said, sacrifices are essentially pointless as an activity, and that is the point).
Prayer replaced animal sacrifice when the Holy Template was destroyed. From a mystical perspective, repetition of prayer, especially in a group, has spiritual energy, pushing it higher and higher up the spiritual ladder.
Repetition is spiritually powerful. Jewish people say the “Shemoneh Esreh” (literally “18” for “18 blessings,” although now it’s 19) prayer multiple times a day. Moreover, if there is a “minyan” (prayer quorum) the same words are even repeated within the same session as the words are first said privately and then repeated by the “chazan” (cantor) to the group.
(Of course, chanting is also abused by occultists who wish to appropriate and thwart God’s will. They will use it to raise the dead, summon evil spirits, and so on.)
This Torah portion (in Leviticus 1:2) refers to animal sacrifice as “korban l’HaShem” or “sacrifice for God.” The Gematria, or numerical value, of this phrase is 408, notes Chabad of the West Side. This is no coincidence, they say; this number is also the combined Gematria of fasting (“tzom”), prayer (“kol” which means “voice,” and charity (“mammon” or money)—136+136+136=408.
Jewish people say that “fasting, prayer, and charity ward off the evil decree.” These are the actual words said at the end of the “Unetaneh Tokef” prayer on the High Holy Day of Rosh HaShanah.
The following verse about prayer, which appears three times in Psalms (118:1, 118:29, 136:1), has a numeric value of 408:
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endures for ever.”
Prayer is truly the most powerful tool available to us.
This power is precisely why bad people want to disconnect our spiritual spinal cord.
By Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain. Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels.