The beginning of Sefer Vayikra gives Adam a mention (Lev. 1:2). God calls Moses and tells him what to do if “Adam ki yakriv mikkem” (literally, “if any man of you) brings a sacrifice to God”.

Rashi says we can learn from this that anyone who brings a sacrifice must be like Adam, who did not steal anybody else’s property because there was nobody else on earth. Hence one cannot and must not steal something that belongs to another person and then offer it to God as a sacrifice.

The whole principle of sacrifice is that everything you have derives directly from God and must be acknowledged as such.

The important thing is not that the offering gives God a gift – does God want to be a rich property owner? – but it gives thanks to the Almighty Giver of all things.


It is not only the individual who, when necessary, brings a sin-offering to God. The community as a whole can go astray and need Divine forgiveness.

Chapter 4 of Vayikra says (verse 13), “If the whole congregation of Israel shall err… and do any of the things which the Lord commanded not to be done…”

On Rosh HaShanah we have a section of the Musaf service which speaks of God remembering the deeds of nations and communities. Commenting on today’s sidra, Rashi utilises the Midrash to suggest that even the Great Sanhedrin is capable of sinning.

If we move the discussion to our own much later generation, we see that even leaders can go wrong, even people who are known for their political capacity, even wise people who normally decide wisely.

No-one – and no community – is always right. No-one can manage without submitting their thoughts, ideas and plans to the One who made us all.


The root of “korban”, “an offering” is a verb that means to come near. The person who brought an offering to the sanctuary was determined to come near to God.

Maimonides regarded sacrifices as a means of leading Israel to abandon the ways of the environment and cleave to God alone.

Animals were deities – sheep were the gods of Egypt, cattle the gods of India, and so on. The ideal would have been an instant command to cease all idolatrous practices forthwith, but gradually weaning the people off such usages seemed better.

Sheep and cattle could remain in the worship system, but they were to be visibly subjected to God’s rulership.

Abravanel backed Maimonides by quoting a Midrash that said, “A king saw that his son was enjoying forbidden meat, so the father said, ‘Let him eat at my table and he will give up that bad habit’.”

Other commentators profoundly disagreed; Nachmanides, for instance, said that the sacrifices were part of the mystique of the heavenly realms.

When we have no Temple or sacrificial system, however, we have other means of coming closer to God, especially by deeds of love and compassion.