We read Parashat HaChodesh this week, Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Nissan, as it is time for Bnei Yisrael to be reminded to start preparing for the holiday of Pesach and for the Korban Pesach. Additionally, this week is Parashat VaYikra, which deals with many Korbanot as well. There are many connections between the types of Korbanot described in VaYikra and the Korban Pesach described in Parashat HaChodesh, and we can learn a lot about the nature of the Korbanot from these connections.
In Parashat HaChodesh, Hashem commands Bnei Yisrael regarding the Leil HaPesach and the Korban Pesach, and this becomes the model for future generations. The Torah here describes the Korban with the different specifications that need to be met; for example, it must be a male goat or sheep that is less than one year old, and it must be roasted. However, we see different laws for the Korban Pesach in Parashat Re’eih. The Torah there states that the Korban should be roasted (Devarim 16:7), but the Torah does not specify that the Korban needs to be one year old nor that it needs to be male.
In order to understand these inconsistencies, we need to understand the Korban Pesach. Why did Bnei Yisrael take the Egyptian sheep for their Korbanot? Chazal explain that the sheep was the god of the Egyptians, so by taking sheep and slaughtering the animals, we essentially invalidated the Egyptian deity. Alternatively, other Mefarshim explain that the sheep was considered disgusting in Egypt, and it was against their religious pursuits to eat the abomination. Either way, the Korban Pesach was a rejection of the Egyptian culture, a demonstration of our choosing Hashem over foreign values, and a demonstration of our conscious decision to do so. Therefore, we are commanded to repeat the Korban throughout the generations.
In Parashat Tzav, we are told about two offerings: the vow offering and the thanksgiving offering. The vow offerings have two days and the intervening night to be eaten, whereas the thanksgiving offerings have one day and one night to be eaten. Like the thanksgiving offering, the Pesach offering has one night to be eaten. This connection helps Pesach fit in with the other Regalim, in that a major theme of the holidays is that one should rejoice and thank God.
It is appropriate, then, that we read Parashat HaChodesh the same Shabbat as Parashat VaYikra, as they share motifs of Korbanot and Matzah. There are many types of Korbanot, but two are specifically discussed in the beginning of this week’s Parashah. After describing the Olah, the Torah discusses the Minchah, a Korban of flour and oil, sometimes deep-fried and sometimes baked. It is a Korban that anyone can afford to bring. The Torah then forbids using honey or Chameitz for the Minchah. Why does the Torah issue this prohibition, the only negative commandment in the entire Parashah?
Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, writes that this was a way for us to distinguish ourselves from the pagans who surrounded us at that time; and, since the pagans did bring Chameitz and honey, it was almost natural for the Jews to do so as well. However, there are many problems with this approach. The first is that it empties the religious purpose of the command. Also, the commandment seems to mandate bringing Matzah, not just prohibit Chameitz. In addition, why is there an exception for Korban Reishit, the first Korban of the new season?
Instead, we might be inclined to take a more symbolic approach. Rashi explains that the Maror at the Seider symbolizes the bitterness that the Jews endured in Egypt. Similarly, the Matzah is called “Lechem Oni,” referring to the suffering endured by the Jews in Mitzrayim. (The root Ayin-Nun-Hey is often used in sections of the Torah describing the slavery, including the Brit Bein HaBetarim, which prophesizes it.) Matzah is also what we ate when we left Egypt. Thus, Matzah symbolizes the process of redemption, from slavery to freedom.
Chametz is the polar opposite of Matzah. What is the opposite of the process of redemption? In order to understand this, we need to better understand Korbanot that included Chameitz. The Korban Omer, brought at Pesach, was brought with the first grains of the year; this Korban was what permitted consumption of the new harvest. However, we bring a Korban Minchah Chadashah on Shavuot. On Shavuot, we also bring the Korban Shetei HaLechem, the waving of two breads. Shavuot is a time where we thank Hashem for the abundance of food. We therefore conclude that the leavened bread refers to the end of a process. Matzah is the stage of when the process is still happening, whereas Chametz is the end. Devash in the Torah refers to sweet fruit and its products, most of the time from dates. Both the Devash and the Chameitz are in the Korban Reishit, which was brought when we entered Eretz Yisrael. Both the Chameitz and the Devash symbolize the greatness of the land and the completion of a cycle. Sefer Vayikra starts with the voluntary offerings, and uses the Shoresh Kuf-Reish-Vet seven times. The purpose of Korbanot is for a person to come closer to God. We should generally approach God with humility, like that of Matzah, but sometimes, we need to thank Hashem for the end of the process and His providing abundance to us.
From connecting the two, there are many things that we are able to learn – not just about the Korbanot, but also things that could help in our lives. We learn that we need to maintain a balance of loving and fearing Hashem; we need to know what to change in our lives so that we can come to a complete Ge’ulah and look back to this time in Galut; and we always need to show Hakarat HaTov to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Adapted from Divrei Torah by Rav Amnon Bazak, Rav Yehuda Rock, and Rav Chanoch Waxman, all writing on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Virtual Beit Midrash (www.vbm-torah.org).