Parashat VaYikra is primarily focused on the details and procedures of offering sacrifices to Hashem. With regards to a Korban Olah that is taken from an animal, the Torah describes how “the sons of Aharon, the Kohanim, shall arrange the pieces, the head and the fats, on the wood that is on the fire, which is on the altar” (VaYikra 1:8). It is here that we discover that the sacrificial service is not only composed of just Shechitah, but it continues even after slaughtering the animal, skinning it, carving the limbs, and harvesting the organs; rather than haphazardly tossing everything onto the fire, this verse states that the Kohein is required to arrange the animal upon the altar. Specifically, he must first put down the limbs, then the head, and then top it all off with a garnish of fats. When the Kohein completes these steps, the Torah describes this offering which he burns as “a pleasing aroma to Hashem” (VaYikra 1:9). While the term “Rei’ach Nicho’ach”, “a pleasing aroma”, appears in the context of various offerings, it never ceases to pique this author’s curiosity. Some aspect of this procedure brings a sense of divine satisfaction, and yet a cursory glance at the offering itself reveals a dismembered animal with fat slathered on the head. How does this arrangement earn such a high compliment as “pleasing” to God?
Rashi seems to take an aesthetic approach to this question. First, he explains that the Kohen was supposed to shmear the animal’s head with fat in a particular spot: “Michaseh Bo Et Beit HaShechitah”, “He covers the place of slaughter with it” (VaYikra 1:8 s.v. Ve’Et HaPader). So the slit on the animal’s throat made by the Shechitah knife is ground-zero for the fat when preparing this offering. Then, Rashi states: “Zehu Derech Kavod Shel Ma’alah”, “this demonstrates respect for God.” When the Gemara discusses this practice, Rashi elaborates on why it is considered a sign of respect to cover that spot on the animal’s head. Apparently, blood from the slaughter will likely stain the area surrounding the cut. Since the fats are relatively fleshy colored, their job is to cover up the discoloration (Yoma 26a s.v. BeDerech Kavod). Similar to The Food Network, where a chef’s meticulous presentation of the dish can earn extra points with the judges, the offering to Hashem will appear more “appetizing” if we camouflage those unsightly bloodstains. Thus, the pleasing element of this Korban may arise from its respectful decor, as Rashi described.
Interestingly, the Ramban shares a different perspective on the placement of these fats during the sacrificial ceremony. While Rashi’s opinion hinges upon a cosmetic factor, Ramban’s underlying theme is utility. He begins by pointing out how the
Torah used an unusual word called “Pader” when referring to the fats that are smeared at the place of the Shechitah. In fact, the Ramban (Ibid. s.v. Et HaPader) believes that this word is truly unique, as he writes “Ein LaMilah Chaveir”, “this word has no friend” from the entire corpus of Scripture. It is a hapax legomena in the Torah. Clearly, there must be a reason why “Pader” fat is required for the Korban as opposed to “Cheilev” or “Shuman.” Indeed, the Ramban explains that Pader is a special type of fat that separates between sections of the animal’s organs, which makes it an appropriate substance to use as a separation between one area of the animal and the rest; after all, that is the function of Pader fat. Furthermore, the Ramban cites the practice of “Chashuvei Ha’Umot”, “distinguished gentiles”, to cover their meat with Pader fat while it is roasting on the fire. The precedent established by those gentiles shows that it is both respectable and accepted to use Pader fat in this manner, and moreover it supports the notion that Pader is designed for this sort of job. Therefore, one could suggest that this offering is pleasing to Hashem because the service utilizes Pader fat according to the natural purpose for which it was created.
Another way to approach this question would be to step back from the trees and consider the forest. Is it possible that Hashem is pleased not by any of the individual components involved, but rather it is Hashem’s response to the offering as a whole? Rashi’s explanation of the term “Rei’ach Nicho’ach” states, “Nachat Ru’ach Lefanai She’Amarti Vena’aseh Retzoni”, “it is pleasing to Me that I spoke and My will was done (VaYikra 1:9 s.v. Nicho’ach). The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks why Rashi recorded his comment in the passive voice, saying “My will was done” as opposed to an active voice, “you did what I wanted”? The Rebbe explains that sacrificial offerings encompass so many details, and of course they are all required by the Halachah, but ultimately the goal is to fulfill God’s will (Likutei Sichot Vol. 32). While it is important to use the Pader and cover up the area of Shechitah, in the big picture we must recognize how we are engaging in Avodat HaKodesh. All of the details that comprise the sacrificial service are the nuts and bolts that build up to a relationship with our Creator. In that sense, it’s really not about any one thing that we did. It’s about the feeling we are trying to evoke, and it could be the “pleasing aroma” which signals that we achieved this objective; His will was done.
Even without the institution of sacrificial offerings, we can still relate to the goal of activating that Rei’ach Nicho’ach before God. Our daily Avodah encompasses many of the same considerations as discussed, be they aesthetic, functional, or relational factors. Let us hope that we are blessed with the opportunity to bring forth a pleasing aroma to Hashem through our continued service, so that His will may be done.