By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
8 Adar II 5765 - March 18, 2005
The book of Vayikra begins its discussion of
sacrifices with the olah (elevation-offering), the wholly burnt offering (Vayikra
1:2-13). After the animal is slaughtered and a portion of its blood is dashed on
the sides of the Altar, it is prepared to be burned on the Altar. While it is
flayed, part of the animal is washed by the Kohen:
And its inner organs and legs shall he wash with the water (YIRCHATZ BA’MAYIM)
(verse 9; cf. verse 13 here).
Similar descriptions are found in Vayikra 8:21 and 9:14, and in Shemot 29:17.
What is the purpose of this washing? Is it for purification, or simply
The Midrash (Torat Kohanim, Nedava 6:7) decides that this is not purification in
“You might have said that, just as elsewhere, the washing spoken of is
[immersion] in forty seahs of water, so too here the washing spoken of should
require [immersion in] forty seahs. Therefore the text says with water (BA’MAYIM),
meaning of any kind.”
Chizkuni (R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid-13th Century) further notes that when the
Torah uses the verb R-CH-TZ to mean a person immersing in water, Onkelos usually
translates it using the Aramaic word that means “to immerse” (S-CH-Y, similar to
the Hebrew root S-CH-H, which means “to bathe”). However, whenever the Torah
speaks of washing a sacrifice, Onkelos translates R-CH-TZ using the Aramaic root
CH-L-L, which means “to empty out.”
This washing therefore is functional, removing any semi-digested food. The dirty
inner parts of the animal are scrubbed to make the offering suitable for
Hashem’s Altar. In the Temple, the rumen was washed in a washing chamber located
on the south wall of the Azara, east of the Water Gate, and the intestines,
which require at least three washings, were cleaned out on marble tables between
the columns in the slaughtering area (Tamid 4:2; Rambam, “Laws of Offering the
This requirement of washing is found only with reference to the olah, and not
with any other sacrifice. Bechor Shor (R. Yosef Bechor Shor, born c. 1140)
“When it comes to the sin-offering and the guilt-offering which are eaten by the
Kohanim, as well as the peace-offering which is eaten by the owners, whoever
eats of them will wash them if he so desires. The [olah], however, is served at
the table of the King, and must be prepared with honor.”
When a person eats, he will prepare his food as he sees fit; but the olah is not
eaten by man, but rather offered in its entirety to Hashem, so it must be
cleansed of any unseemly parts.
Even though the washing of the olah is not for purification, but cleansing, the
Torah still requires water (BA’MAYIM), and not any other liquid:
“BA’MAYIM – with water, and not with wine; with water, and not with a mixture of
wine and water (Torat Kohanim, loc. cit.; Zevachim 22a).”
What is the source of this water? The Talmud (Zevachim, loc. cit.) offers two
different views with reference to using the water from the Kiyor― the Laver
built for the Kohanim to wash their hands and feet― for washing out the inner
parts of the olah. One source says that while the word BA’MAYIM requires water,
and no other liquids, it comprises all water, including – perhaps, especially –
the water of the Kiyor. Another source says that BA’MAYIM means unspecified
water, and not water that has acquired “an accompanying name,” whereas the water
taken from the Kiyor is not known simply as “water,” but “Kiyor-water,” and is
thus unsuitable for this purpose. Rambam (ibid.) says that
“all water is fit”
for cleaning out the olah, which means only that the water need not come from a
special source, like a flowing stream or rain water; it can come from any
source. He side-steps the issue of whether water that has acquired “an
accompanying name” – such as Kiyor-water – is valid or invalid. The commentary
on Rambam, Mishneh LaMelech (R. Yehudah Rosannes, 1657-1727) admits that he does
not know why Rambam has omitted this issue.
It is surprising, however, that the Temple of Shlomo is not cited as a source.
Because, in the description of the Temple, we read:
And he made ten lavers, and put five on the right and five on the left, to wash
in them, parts of the offering of the olah they would wash in them; but the
basin (Yam, sea) was for the Kohanim to wash in (Divrei HaYamim II 4:6).
This seems to state that Kiyor-water is valid for cleaning out the ‘olah. And
yet, the Talmud never introduces this source as a proof!
Rashi, however, in his commentary on Divrei HaYimim and on the parallel verse in
Melachim I (7:38), anticipates our question. He says that Shlomo’s ten lavers,
five placed on each side of Moshe’s original Kiyor, were those used for
cleansing the parts of the olah. They were merely receptacles for holding the
water needed to wash the olah, and the water in them never acquired the
“accompanying name” of “Kiyor-water”; only the water in Moshe’s original Kiyor,
used by the Kohanim to wash their hands and feet, has an “accompanying name.” We
still do not know whether Kiyor-water can be used to cleanse the olah, because
the verses in Divrei HaYamim and Melachim do not discuss such water one way or
the other. The amazing thing is that Rashi apparently has no source for this
reading. But it is Rashi’s vast knowledge of the teachings of our Sages that
suggests it to him.
The olah is the offering of utter devotion to Hashem, born of the yearning to
come as close as possible to the Creator. Nevertheless, lest we think that this
aspiring should suffice, that Hashem would somehow “overlook” our ignoring of
propriety, the laws of washing the olah tell us: first be sure you are cleansed
from within of even the most common stain – and do so using Hashem’s first,
simplest creation, water – before ascending towards Him.
Why does the first word in Vayikra end with an undersized aleph? Moshe,
say the Sages, wanted the word to be written not “Vayikra” – with the
aleph (“And He called”) – but as “Vayikar” – without the aleph (“And He
happened upon,” as with Bilám in Bamidbar 23:4).
In his humility, Moshe did not want to write a word that suggested that
God regularly called to him. He wanted to appear as merely an occasional
recipient of God’s call – Vayikar. When God insisted that the aleph be
included, Moshe inserted the aleph, but he made it smaller than the rest
of the word.
None of us is a Moshe, but each of us is bidden to hear the call of God
embedded within His Torah. We might think – might even wish! – that this
call is only occasional – Vayikar. Not so. God calls us through Vayikra –
with a healthy, full-sized aleph.
God has provided us with special listening devices to enable us to hear
His call. Through Torah study we can enter, however tentatively, the
Divine Mind of God. Through prayer, we enable God to enter into our hearts
and souls. Gemilut chasadim, deeds of kindness, is another “hearing aid”
by which the echo of God resounds in our actions. And each of the 613
mitzvot constitutes a distinctive modality of God’s call. Together they
combine to make us the recipients of God’s full Vayikra.
God can be heard anywhere, but primarily on the soil of Eretz Yisrael is
His call heard most clearly, minus the foreign static that is endemic to
the Diaspora. Although Israel is often cacophonous, one can hear the call
of God here as in no other place.
In this Land, it is Vayikra, not Vayikar.
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North
American Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at
highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send
emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254