Shabbat Table Topics – Parashat Vayikra

Prayer or Sacrifice?

Set up a debate at your Shabbat table regarding the ideal form of worship.  Is prayer or sacrifice a better model?

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each system?
  • How would repentance be different if, instead of confessing sins with your heart and mouth, one needed to also bring a sin-offering?  How might giving a tangible object, rather than merely speaking words, affect one's relationship with Hashem? Is gift giving more or less valuable than speech?1
  • For elaboration, see Purpose of the Sacrifices, and note how each of Rambam and Ramban view the relative values of prayer and sacrifice.

Atoning For Sin

R"Y Bekhor ShorShemot 30:1About R. Yosef Bekhor Shor observes that having some form of an atonement process is absolutely critical for ensuring that people are motivated to behave properly.  If there were no purification process, people would remain mired in sin, and would have much less incentive to avoid future sins.

  • Do you agree, or does knowing that such an atonement process exists make it easier to sin, as one knows that there is a safety net upon which to rely?
  • R"Y Bekhor Shor does not explain why the atonement process had to be accomplished specifically through animal sacrifice. RambanVayikra 1:9About R. Moshe b. Nachman suggests that in watching the animal slaughtered, a person is forced to recognize that it should have been his blood which was spilled had it not been for Hashem's mercy. This knowledge should prevent him from sinning further. What other advantages does the sacrificial procedure provide?  For more, see Purpose of the Sacrifices.

Purpose of Mitzvot

In debating the role and value of sacrifices, commentators display their differing attitudes towards the purpose and nature of mitzvot as a whole. Some of the questions they touch upon include:

  • Is it problematic to propose a practical or utilitarian purpose for a commandment or to suggest that it is a concession to human foibles?  In other words, must the Torah's laws represent an ideal and be inherently valuable, or might they simply be addressing human needs and nature?
  • Are all of the Torah's laws equally relevant and useful to all generations, or is it possible that some were meant mainly for a particular time period?
  • How does looking into the reasoning behind a particular commandment make it more meaningful?  What are the dangers of doing so?
  • For several topics where these issues come into play, see Purpose of the Mishkan, Purpose of the Sacrifices, Purpose of the Pesach, Half Shekels – For Census or Tabernacle, Tzara'at, and Purpose of the Captive Woman Protocol.


For more, see: Parashat Vayikra Topics.