The main section of the Bible that could be said to prescribe
religious observance begins in the book of Exodus chapter 19, at Mt. Sinai, and runs through
Leviticus. Here the Law is explicitly stated and some sacrifices are prescribed.
There is nothing like a prayer book that specifies liturgical forms detailed
instruction on performing the sacrifices. Key to the Law is not forgetting that G-d is G-d. Much of the law
that follows has more to do with civil interaction (loving your neighbor as
cleanliness (being prepared to enter into relationship with G-d) rather than ritual and observance.
Part of what is given in this section are the instructions for bringing
offerings to the L-rd.
The law is given at Sinai but before that the Patriarchs have religious observances but they are
mentioned only in passing. They clearly offered sacrifices but there are no details on how they offered their
sacrifices. There is no pattern of religious observances, although the L-rd
modeled the notion of the Sabbath at the time He created the world.
Sabbath regulations are also in this section. Cain and Able offered sacrifices
but there is nothing said about how they did it. The same for Noah
and the rest until we get to Sinai.
Sinai the congregation of Israel already knew about religious observance,
They had a festival to the L-rd (Ex 32.4) with no explanation as to what
that should entail. Even so they were
given the material
that underlies what we will consider here.
Incidentally, the Rabbis teach that their sin was was not as much an act
of going after other gods as it was
making an image of G-d. That much is not real clear in most English translations
but faithfulness has always been important to God--not ritual.
After the giving of the law we see that
all the people were not always all that observant. As we move
through the story, it is emphasized that it is not the offering; or the proper offering offered in
the proper way at the proper time that is the key to our relationship
with G-d, it is rather the condition of our hearts. For example
in Psalm 51.15-17 we read:
15 Open my
and my mouth will
declare your praise.
16 You do not
sacrifice, or I
would bring it;
you do not take
pleasure in burnt
sacrifice, O G-d, is
a broken spirit;
a broken and
you, God, will
Clearly these offerings are prescribed and, in that sense at least,
they are required. The Jews today do not offer these sacrifices. (They
actually cannot because there is no temple.)
Prayer has taken the place of sacrifices in Jewish practice. Many Jewish
sites point to Hosea 14:3 which
"Take with you words, and turn to the Lord. Say to Him, forgive
all iniquity and receive us graciously, so we will offer the words
of our lips instead of calves."
There is value in religious observance providing that the observance
does not become an end in itself. Man is somehow drawn to
religious observance and that can come from a holy place. (see
Sacrifices and the
'Value' of Idol Worship). So much for attitude here are what
the offerings mean with material borrowed heavily from the Jewish site referenced at
the bottom of the page.
In Leviticus 1 through 7 the main offerings that are to be brought to
the L-rd are described and regulated. The first roughly 5 chapters serve
mostly as description; Chapters 6 and 7 clarify the regulations surrounding the sacrifices
but the sacrifices are mentioned through out the Torah and different
details are given in many of those places. The Rabbis teach that there is
actually not enough information in the written Torah to properly perform the
sacrifices and that these references indicate that the traditional
witness (Oral Torah) existed even during Bible times and indeed was as necessary
then as it is today. Such details are beyond the scope of
this page and indeed beyond my reading.
The five main offerings (Qorbanot in Hebrew) are:
The Burnt Offering -- Olah (Chapter 1)
The Grain Offering --
minchah (Chapter 2)
The Fellowship (Peace) Offering --
Zebach Sh'lamim (Chapter 3)
The Sin Offering -- Chatat (Chapter 4)
The Guilt (Trespass) Offering --
Asham (Leviticus 5.14-6.7)
The first two more methods or types while the last
three show the purpose of the offering. The fellowship offering
really amounts to a meal shared with God. Part of a fellowship
offering will be offered as a burnt offering with its drink and grain
offering. Part of it is consumed in the presence of the L-rd.
There are other offerings that do not fit
neatly into these categories but this will serve as the introduction.
Even the details below are not complete at this point.
Olah: The Burnt Offering
This is perhaps the best-known class of offering. It is what
was practiced by the patriarchs and represented submission to G-d's
will. The Hebrew word for burnt offering is olah, from the root
Ayin-Lamed-Hei, meaning ascension. It is the same root as the word
aliyah, which is used to describe moving to Israel or ascending to the
podium to say a blessing over the Torah. An olah is completely burnt on
the outer altar; no part of it is eaten by anyone. Because the offering
represents complete submission to G-d's will, the entire offering is
given to G-d. It expresses a
desire to commune with G-d, and expiates sins incidentally in the
process (because how can you commune with G-d if you are tainted with
sins?). An olah could be made from cattle, sheep, goats, or even birds,
depending on the offerer's means.
Zebach Sh'lamim: Peace Offering
A peace offering is an offering expressing thanks or gratitude to G-d
for His bounties and mercies. That is why it is also called a fellowship
offering. The Hebrew term for this type of offering
is zebach sh'lamim (or sometimes just sh'lamim), which is related to the
word shalom, meaning "peace" or "whole." A representative portion of the
offering is burnt on the altar, a portion is given to the kohanim
the rest is eaten by the offerer and his family; thus, everyone gets a
part of this offering. This category of offerings includes
thanksgiving-offerings (in Hebrew, Todah, which was obligatory for
survivors of life-threatening crises), free will-offerings, and
offerings made after fulfillment of a vow. Note that this class of
offerings has nothing to do with sin; in fact, the Talmud states that in
the age of the messiah (when there is no more sin), this will be the
only class of offering that is brought to the Temple.
Chatat: Sin Offering
A sin offering is an offering to atone for and purge a sin. It is an
expression of sorrow for the error and a desire to be reconciled with
G-d. The Hebrew term for this type of offering is chatat, from the word
chayt, meaning "missing the mark." A chatat could only be offered for
unintentional sins committed through carelessness, not for intentional,
malicious sins. The size of the offering varied according to the nature
of the sin and the financial means of the sinner. Some chatatot are
individual and some are communal. Communal offerings represent the
interdependence of the community, and the fact that we are all
responsible for each others' sins. A few special chatatot could not be
eaten, but for the most part, for the average person's personal sin, the
chatat was eaten by the priests.
Asham: Guilt Offering
A guilt offering is an offering to atone for sins of stealing things
from the altar, for when you are not sure whether you have committed a
sin or what sin you have committed, or for breach of trust. The Hebrew
word for a guilt offering is asham. When there was doubt as to whether a
person committed a sin, the person would make an asham, rather than a
chatat, because bringing a chatat would constitute admission of the sin,
and the person would have to be punished for it. If a person brought an
asham and later discovered that he had in fact committed the sin, he
would have to bring a chatat at that time. An asham was eaten by the
Food and Drink Offerings
A meal offering (minchah) represented the devotion of the fruits of
man's work to G-d, because it was not a natural product, but something
created through man's effort. A representative piece of the offering was
burnt on the fire of the altar, but the rest was eaten by the priests.
There are also offerings of undiluted wine, referred to as nesekh.