When man restores G-d to His world

What exactly is an offering?

Daniel Pinner

Judaism Kohen lights menora in priestly garments
Kohen lights menora in priestly garments
Having completed the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and inaugurated it at the end of the Book of Exodus, the Book of Leviticus continues with its functioning: “When He called to Moshe, Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting [1] saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When any person from you offers a sacrifice to Hashem from the animals, from the cattle or from the flock you shall offer sacrifices” (Leviticus 1:1-2).
What exactly is a sacrifice, an offering? – The Hebrew word קָרְבָּן, korban, is from the root קרב, meaning “near”. Hence the Torah-perspective of a sacrifice is something which brings the Jew and G-d nearer to each other.
The first time that Israel had received a national command to sacrifice was almost exactly a year earlier, while yet in Egypt: “Hashem said to Moshe and Aaron…: Speak to the entire Community of Israel, saying: On the tenth of this month they shall take for themselves – each man – a lamb or kid [2] for each father’s house…” (Exodus 12:1-3). This was the Paschal Lamb which every Jewish family slaughtered in those last few days before leaving Egypt.
There is a subtle difference between the Torah’s terminology when commanding the Paschal Lamb and the command here at the beginning of Leviticus. When commanding the Paschal Lamb a year earlier, the Torah used the word אִישׁ, “ish”, for “man”; here in Leviticus, it uses the word אָדָם, “adam”.
The words אִישׁ and אָדָם are almost, but not entirely, synonymous. While they both connote “person”, אִישׁ is specifically “man”, while אָדָם is the more general “human being”. Hence our translation here – “each man” in Exodus and “any person” in Leviticus.

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 2:9) analyses the phrase “When any person [אָדָם] from you offers a sacrifice...” and asks: “Why does it not say ‘ish’ as it did earlier?...Why does it say ‘adam’? – To include converts. ‘From you’ excludes a non-Jew, who can nevertheless bring a burnt-offering [3]… [The Sages] said: We accept several kinds of offerings from evil Jews, in order to bring them under the Wings of the Shechinah (the Divine Presence), but not from an apostate, and not from one who offers wine-libations to idols, and not from anyone who publicly desecrates Shabbat”.

Thus the Midrash explains why the Torah uses two different synonyms for “person” – אִישׁ with regard to the Paschal Lamb, and אָדָם with regard to general sacrifices.

And so – two terms for two kinds of sacrifice: the אִישׁ, “man” offered the Pesach Sacrifice; the אָדָם, “person”, offers the Burnt-Offering.

What do these two terms signify?

אִישׁ and אָדָם both mean “man”. But there is a subtle difference: as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochay notes, “You [Israel] are called אָדָם, adam; the other nations are not called אָדָם, adam” (Yevamot 61a, Bava Metzia 114b, Keritot 6b, et al.).

Why do our Sages claim that the term ‘adam’ refers specifically to Israel?

The Vilna Ga’on points out that Hebrew has several synonyms for ‘man’: ish, enosh, gever, ben-adam, adam. Each of these terms has a plural form: ish pluralizes as ishim; enosh pluralizes as anashim; gever as g’varim; ben-adam as b’nei-adam.

Adam, however, is unique: it has no plural form. Like the nation of Israel, Adam stands alone, cannot be pluralized.

And so the אִישׁ offers the Pesach Sacrifice. True, Jews and only Jews can have a share in the Pesach Sacrifice, so we might have expected the Torah to use the word אָדָם there. However, several people would eat from a single lamb or goat: “On the tenth of this month they shall take for themselves – each man – a lamb or kid for each father’s house, and lamb or kid for each household; and if the household is too small for a lamb or kid, then he and his neighbour who is near to his house will take, commensurate with the number of souls; each man according to how much he eats will be covered by the lamb or kid” (Exodus 12:3-4).

There are three rules which are apposite here: First, that every Jew who was ritually pure had to eat at least kazayit (the equivalent of an olive’s bulk) of the meat of the Pesach Sacrifice; second, that it was forbidden to leave any of the meat over till morning; and third, that only someone who had been designated as part of the group for a specific lamb or kid could eat of that particular animal.

Since there is too much meat on a single lamb or kid for one person to eat entirely, they would have to form groups: in the first instance family groups, and if the family was too small to eat an entire lamb or kid, then they would form a larger group with another family or families. Obviously, unmarried Jews had to join other groups.

Hence it is eminently logical that the Torah would command that every אִישׁ offers the Pesach Sacrifice: it is, by its very nature, a communal venture, an experience that had to be in the plural. The אִישׁ can indeed be pluralised in the way that אָדָם cannot.

By contrast, the individual sacrifices (Peace-Offerings, Sin-Offerings, Thanks-Offerings and the like) would be brought by an individual – an אָדָם. It is equally logical that the individual’s sacrifice would be brought by an אָדָם and not by an אִישׁ.

The original אָדָם was, of course, אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן – the first man, Adam [4]. And the Zohar (Section 1, 34b) explains the three letters of the name אָדָם, Adam, the progenitor of all mankind, to encapsulate the entire infinity of Creation.

The alef, the first letter of the name אָדָם and the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, represents the beginning of Creation.

The dalet, the middle letter of the name אָדָם, represents G-d. The one verse in the entire Torah which encapsulates the whole of Judaism is the opening sentence of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4), and in that verse, the letter dalet of the word אֶחָד, One, is written larger than all the other letters [5]. Hence the dalet in the name Adam recalls the One G-d.

The third letter of the name אָדָם is the final mem. The letter mem has two forms: its usual form is מ, and when it is the final letter of a word its form changes to ם. The Zohar refers to the prophet Isaiah’s ecstatic celebration of G-d’s deliverance from the Assyrian King Sennacherib who attacked Jerusalem in the days of King Hezekiah, surrounding it and besieging it with 180,000 soldiers (2 Kings 18:13-20:9, Isaiah 38:1-38:8). When all seemed lost, the entire Assyrian army died of a plague in a single night.

The prophet Isaiah looks forward to King Hezekiah and his reign: “To he who increases his dominion and endless peace...” (Isaiah 9:6). And the word appears in this verse in the form לְםַרְבֵּה: that is to say, a final mem in the middle of the word. ם instead of מ.

Thus, according to the Zohar, the final mem in the name אָדָם alludes to this.

The Recanati (Rabbi Menachem ben Binyamin Recanati, Italy, c.1250-c.1310) cites this in his commentary to Genesis 1:26 (“...Let Us make man in Our image...”), and concludes that the name אָדָם is the acronym of אָדָם (Adam), דָּוִד (King David), and מָשִׁיחַ (mashiach).

The prime subject of the Book of Leviticus is, of course, the Kehunah (the Priesthood), the functioning of the Mishkan (in later centuries the Holy Temple), the sacrifices therein, the duties and functions of the Kohanim (Priests), and so forth.

Its second verse – “When any אָדָם [person] from you offers a sacrifice to Hashem...” – sets the tone for all subsequent history. G-d had earlier called us His “Kingdom of Kohanim and holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). That is to say, the role of the Nation of Israel vis-a-vis the other nations is the same as the role of the Kohanim vis-a-vis the rest of Israel: to be spiritual guides, to lead them in certain forms of worship – specifically in קָרְבָּנוֹת, in sacrifices, in coming closer to Hashem.

“Any אָדָם [person] from you offers a sacrifice to Hashem...” – any Jew, whether within the Nation of Israel or whether leading those of the other nations who wish to come closer to Hashem. As Vayikra Rabbah (cited above) notes, a non-Jew is allowed to offer certain burnt-offerings – provided that he is led in this ritual by Israel.

The opening word of the Book of Leviticus is וַיִּקְרָא (“when He called”). In the Torah, this is always written with a diminished alef [6]. The Midrashim and the commentators offer several reasons (which we will not address now).

I suggest a possible reference to this diminished alef:

The last Book of the Bible ever to be written was the Book of Chronicles [7], written by Ezra the Scribe (Bava Batra 15a). This Book is a restatement and summary of the entire history of the Bible, beginning with Adam and concluding with the rebuilding of the Second Holy Temple.

The first word in the Book of Chronicles is אָדָם, Adam; and there, the alef of אָדָם is written larger than all the other letters. In Masoretic nomenclature, alef rabbati: אָדָם.

I suggest that the diminished alef of וַיִּקְרָא, the alef which represents G-d (following the Zohar cited above) was lacking from the world, held in abeyance so to speak, until Ezra the Scribe restored it, balancing it out by writing the enlarged alef of אָדָם.


[1] The Torah calls this structure by three different names: the מִקְדָּשׁ, Mikdash, from the root קדש (holy), hence “Sanctuary”, that which sanctifies and has been sanctified; the מִשְׁכָּן, Mishkan, from the root שכן (dwell, reside), hence the place wherein God’s Presence (שְׁכִינָה, from the same root) resides; and the אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, Ohel Moed, Tent of Meeting, the place where G-d and the Jewish nation meet.

[2] The Hebrew word שֶׂה denotes either a lamb or a kid. There is no single word in English which preserves this dual meaning; the English translation “lamb” (JPS, Margolin, and several others) is unsatisfactory and incomplete.

[3] Hebrew קָרְבַּן עוֹלֶה, often rendered “Elevation-Offering”. This is a sacrifice which is completely burnt, hence it is “elevated” by going up in smoke.

[4] The appellation אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן is the standard title for Adam. It is ambiguous – it means both “the first man” and “Adam the First”.

[5] In every Torah-scroll and every printed Chumash, and in most Siddurim, the word in this specific verse appears in the form אֶחָד. In Masoretic nomenclature, dalet rabbati.

[6] In every Torah-scroll and every printed Chumash, the word in this specific verse appears in the form וַיִּקְרָא. In Masoretic nomenclature, alef ze’ira.

[7] The Book of Chronicles was originally one single Book. It was only in the Middle Ages that Christian Bible printers divided it into First and Second Chronicles. In Hebrew Bibles it appears as one single Book.