For many people, the commencement of Sefer Vayikra marks a distinct departure in the Torah from the telling of the history of the world and our becoming an Am, to the more technical details of the Avodas Hamishkan and Korbanos. Indeed, without a Bais Hamikdash, it is all too easy to “read through” much of the Sefer as not relevant to our place in Galus. After all, what possible use could we have for learning the difference between a Korban Tamid and a Korban Mincha or the precise method in which a Kohen was to sprinkle the blood from an offering? Such an approach misses the obvious – Sefer Vayikra represents the same word of Hashem as Sefer Bereishis or Shemos. In fact, its words carry some of the most fundamental lessons of the Kedushas Hatorah and the morals for how we are to live our lives.
One illustration of this is the detailed descriptions given of the Korban Olah. This particular Korban, one brought voluntarily by an individual as an offering for atonement, may consist of a large animal (a bull), a smaller animal (a sheep), a bird (a dove) or a meal offering. The Alshech derives from the fact that the Torah explicitly uses the word Korbono with respect to the dove, that the poorer mans offering may in fact be more precious to Hashem than the more expensive cattle offering. The Torah goes out of its way to explain the equal sanctity of each type of Korbon Olah, regardless of its cost and how each one is equal before Hashem.
Yet, for some reason, there is one obvious distinction between the procedure used for cattle and that used for the dove. The Torah quite specifically spells out that in the case of cattle, the Kohen “scrubs the intestines and burns them on the Mizbeach.” (1:9) In the case of the dove, the Torah says its innards “shall be placed on the ashes to the east of the Mizbeach.” Why do we go to such lengths to express the equality of the different types of Karbonos and then treat them so differently – a dove is not worthy of having its innards on the Mizbeach?
Rashi (1:16) and the Abarbanel derive a profound lesson from this distinction. They point out that cattle eats what its owner provides whereas birds fly and take food from wherever they choose. It is repulsive to Hashem to have the intestines on the Mizbeach which contained “stolen” food. While there are several earlier references to the despicable nature of Gezel, perhaps none make the point so clearly of its incompatibility with the kedusha for which we strive. In our modern times, it seems that temptation is at everyone’s front door. Whether it is our immersion in the business world or the financial pressures of the times, one must constantly be vigilant to avoid impropriety. If the intestines of an “unscrupulous” animal are unwelcome on the Mizbeach, how careful we must be in exercising our affairs to stay as far away from dishonesty as possible. Though Sefer Vayikra discusses many things which seem quite remote, the lessons learned are as much a part of our precious Torah as any.