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   by Jacob Solomon

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Any sin offering whose blood has been brought into the Tent of Meeting (the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle) to effect atonement… may not be eaten. It must be burnt in fire (6:23).

Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Zevachim 82a) emphasizes that the word 'vechal' - 'any' is an inclusive word for other offerings as well. The text teaches that if the Priest erred and took the blood into the Sanctuary with the intention of effecting atonement, the entire offering becomes invalid and must be burnt.

The main altar - outside the Sanctuary (Ex. 40:29) - was plated in copper (ibid. 27:2). It was the altar that handled the offerings associated to a great extent with some form of shortcoming - either in the individual or in the community. Even thanksgiving offerings could carry the implication that the grateful sincerely believed that G-d had favored them more than they actually deserved. Indeed copper has a negative implication: Ezekiel received G-d's communication with, 'The House of Israel has become dross to Me. They are all copper, tin, iron, and lead within the crucible - dross which was silver' (Ez. 22:18).

Thus the main altar was a means of getting rid of spiritual contamination - reflected in its being plated in sin-associated copper, and being placed outside the main sanctuary.

By contrast, the inner altar - within the Sanctuary - was plated in gold (Ex. 40:26). It was the altar on which the ketoret - frankincense - was offered twice daily (ibid. 30:7-8). As the above verse is understood, the entry of blood from any offering into its precincts was forbidden.

There were, however, three exceptions. One was the blood from the offerings of the Yom Kippur service to effect atonement for the entire Israelite people. The other two were (following Rashi to the respective texts) from the offerings of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin where they accidentally misled the public in a matter of Torah law. These were brought into Sanctuary. What may be learnt from those three exceptions?

In response - their common factor is that they concern the very root of the spiritual welfare of the people - not just individuals. The beautiful gold-plated artifacts represent spiritual intensity (the Ark), the need to balance it with promoting prosperity (the Table) and the spreading of spiritually uplifting ideals (the Menorah). But they are not symbols, they are functional. And their beauty is to be interfered with when things greater than beauty - the situation of the community at large - is at stake.

The service of Yom Kippur acts as an atonement for the entire Israelite community. The shortcomings of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin - however accidentally caused - are matters of grave concern for the whole community. Therefore appropriate action must be taken to 'cut through the spiritual nerve' - however beautiful that nerve is. That is represented by the bringing of blood into the actual sanctuary.

That principle applies today when great projects are undertaken for communal welfare. Hospitals, schools, and projects involving improving the quality of physical and spiritual life of the elderly need the open sanction, support, and presence of the most prestigious people in society. Their patronage gives these places prestige; enabling them to be looked up to in society. And when the community at large faces negative forces - such as wholesale condoning of corruption and injustice in society - it is those people who need to allegorically 'sully themselves with blood' - speak out, 'get their hands dirty', and use their power and influence to redirect those who look up to them and through them, society at large…

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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