and Oil, Water and Wine
In Parshat VaYikra, we are introduced to sacrificial worship as called for by the Torah. In each of the animal sacrifices, we find the sprinkling of blood; upon a single human being or groups of people up to the entire nation (as we find in Shemot 24:8, where it says, “And Moshe took the blood and he sprinkled it upon the People, and he said, ‘Behold this is the blood of the covenant that HaShem has made with you...’ “), or upon the altar, or upon another part of the Mishkan, generally the Parochet, the curtain that separated the Kodesh, the Holy area of the Mishkan, from the Kodesh HaKodoshim, the Holy of Holies. In all cases, the purpose of the sprinkling of blood, about which the Torah says (Devarim 12:23), “For the blood is the life,” was Kapparah, Atonement.
The RAMBAN in Vayikra 1:9 states that the acceptance by HaShem of the blood of an animal as atonement for the human being, rather than the blood of the human being, testifies to His great Mercy. Oil in the TANAKH, the Bible, generally refers to shemen zayit, olive oil, and the pure light that can be derived from it represents HaShem Himself or His Radiance, or the Torah, and its radiance. The first Biblical reference is in Bereshit (28:16,18), where Yaakov awakens from his dream and declares, “...Surely, HaShem is in this place!...And Yaakov awoke the next morning, took the stone that he had placed under his head, set it up as a monument, and poured some oil upon its head.” In the Mishkan, where its collection is referred to as shemen lamaor, oil for light, it was most definitely associated with the Menorah, where its light shone continuously in the Kodesh. It was an essential ingredient of most of the Korbanot Minchah, the Grain Sacrifices, as we read in the Torah (Vayikra 2:1), “If a person brings a Korban Minchah to HaShem, his sacrifice should be of the finest flour, and he should pour oil upon it, and place frankincense upon it.” It was used for the anointing of Kings, who in the Jewish understanding represented HaShem, and of Priests, who acted as conduits between G-d and man. Certain elements were placed in Creation by HaShem, for the use of human beings, to assist them in reaching their spiritual goals. Such was the case with wine, which has its “down side” as well. Thus, when Noach exited the Tevah, the Ark, he immediately planted a vineyard, and became drunk.
It was used in the worship of the Mishkan in connection with sacrifices associated with vows and donations, or at special times of holiness, such as Shabbat and the Holidays. It has also become an essential part of wedding ceremonies, and Sheva Berachot celebrations. It is used as part of Birchat HaMazon, the blessing recited at the conclusion of a meal. Thus it has become incorporated into occasions where people are celebrating great joy, to enable them to experience happiness moderated by the Torah and the Rabbis, to prevent feasts from degenerating into Epicurean orgies, or wedding celebrations into immoral behavior. Water is an element essential to the life of the human being, and also essential for the growth of crops of all kinds. The Sages decreed that Geshem, the Prayer for Rain, should be recited on Shemini Atzeret, the end of the Holiday of Sukkot, both of which are called the “Time of our Happiness.” One of the reasons for the name is that, that time of year is associated with the end of the Harvest.
We ask HaShem for water in the form of gishmei berachah, rains of blessing. On the Days between Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret, the Jewish People also “offered water to HaShem,” so to speak, through the process of Nissuch HaMayim, the Libation of Water upon the Altar. The happiness of our recent successful atonement on Yom Kippur also filled the air. And it says in the Mishnah concerning that occasion, that “One who did not see the joy of Nissuch HaMayim (when Sages of Israel juggled eight torches, did “push-ups” on their thumbs, etc., etc. and the City of Yerushalayim was flooded with light), never saw joy in his life.” At the time of the first Pesach, we signaled our fitness for Redemption by placing the blood of our enemy’s god on the doorposts of our homes, counting on the protection of HaShem, and by shedding our own blood by performing the Brit Milah, circumcision, on ourselves. In our time, may HaShem accept the prayers of the People of Israel on the past week’s Yom Kippur Kattan. May the Master of the Universe also recognize the Mesirat Nefesh, the self-sacrifice, the shedding of so much blood by the People of Eretz Yisrael, as once again a signal of our fitness for Redemption.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel