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Parasha Vayikra (And He Called): The Book of Holiness

Parasha Vayikra (And He Called)
Leviticus 1:1–5:26; Isaiah 43:21–44:23; Hebrews 10:1–18

“The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting.”  (Leviticus 1:1)


The Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) is adorned with numerous items, including the Mantel, an ornate covering typically made of velvet and embroidered with golden thread, silk, and ornamental beads, and a silver crown called the Keter.

Last week, Parasha Pekudei concluded the readings in Exodus with the Glory of God filling the Mishkan (Tabernacle) when Moses completed building it.

This Shabbat, we begin the study of the Third Book of Moses, which is called Leviticus in English Bibles.  The name Leviticus is derived from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures).  The Hebrew name for Leviticus is Vayikra, from the opening word which means and He called.

The oldest name, perhaps, for Vayikra is Torat Cohanim (The Law of the Priests), since it describes the functions of the Cohanim (Priests) and the duties of the priestly nation.

It is, therefore, also called the Book of Holiness.


The handwritten parchment of the Torah scroll is attached to two wooden shafts called Atzei Chayim (Trees of Life).

This book of the Torah is often overlooked because of its emphasis on holy practices (offerings and sacrifices), holy places (the Temple), holy people (the priests—Cohanim), holy food (kashrut), holy finances (tithing), and holy days (Biblical fasts and festivals).

Some non-Jewish New Covenant Believers wonder how the book is relevant in their lives.

The book of 1 Peter connects the ideas of priesthood and holiness to every Believer.

Speaking to Gentiles who once were not a people (loh ami), but are now the people (am) of God, it states in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.”

All who come to faith in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), whether Jew or Gentile, are called into His marvelous light to live a holy life.


“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!  Praise the LORD!”  (Psalms 150:6)

A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation

The Hebrew word for holy is kadosh, which literally means set apart.

God told the Israelites and later also the non-Jewish followers of Yeshua, “You will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy (kadosh) nation.”  (Exodus 19:6)

In doing so, God set apart His people to serve Him in devotion and sincerity.

The Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic sect of Judaism in the 18th century said that “everything created contains a spark of holiness.”

Without the Word of God, however, we really have little idea about what being holy entails.

Thank Offering-First Fruits

The Bible describes three kinds of peace offerings (zebach shelamim): the thank offering; the freewill offering, and the offering made after the fulfillment of a vow.

Drawing Near Through the Korbanot (Offerings)

“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them:  When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd or of the flock.”  (Leviticus 1:2) 

In chapter one of Leviticus, God calls to Moses from the Tent of Meeting and gives him the laws of the animal and meal offerings.

Leviticus reveals more than a set of rules for the nation God called to be holy; it institutes substitutionary atonement through the shedding of blood, which lays the groundwork for understanding the significance of Yeshua’s death on the Roman execution stake.

Without understanding the spiritual principles of blood sacrifice and substitutionary atonement, the importance and impact of Yeshua’s death and subsequent resurrection might be lost on us.

Although we tend to associate all sacrifices with atonement for sin, the peace offerings were not.  As well, the meal offerings were bloodless and some offerings were voluntary, over and above normal obligations.


A man reads in a synagogue in Safed, Israel, which is considered one of Judaism’s Four Holy Cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias.

Parasha Vayikra outlines the following offerings and sacrifices:

  • The burnt or ascending offerings (olah), which were completely burned by fire on the altar (Leviticus 1:3–17);
  • The meal offerings (minchah), which were prepared with choice flour, olive oil, and frankincense (Leviticus 2);  
  • The sacrifices of well-being or peace offerings (zebach shelamim), which were eaten by the person doing the offering after the Cohanim had received their part.  Other parts were burned on the altar (Leviticus 3);  
  • The sin offerings (chattat), which atoned for unwitting sin (Leviticus 4:1–26); and  
  • The guilt offerings (asham), which atoned for unwittingly being remiss about something sacred or for dealing deceitfully in regards to a deposit or pledge.  Guilt offerings also involved restitution to the priest and to the victim (Leviticus 4:27–5:26 [6:7]).

“If someone sins and acts perversely against Adonai by dealing falsely with his neighbor…  He is to restore it in full plus an additional one-fifth; he must return it to the person who owns it, on the day he presents his guilt offering.”  (Leviticus 5:20–24 [6:1–5])


A woman prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem, the last remnant of the Holy Temple.

The Hebrew word for offering is korban.

Two related Hebrew words, karov (near) and krav (battle), which come from the same Hebrew root K-R-V, shed light on offerings to the Lord.

The word karov, which means near or close to, reveals that giving a korban was a means of drawing close to the Lord.

These offerings were not designed to compensate God in some way or to provide atonement for willfully committed sin.

This idea is especially evident when the Prophet Samuel reproves King Saul, saying that to obey is better than sacrifice:

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”  (1 Samuel 15:22)


Saul Reproved by Samuel, by John Singleton Copley

Despite Samuel’s reproval of Saul, the Bible does not reject or end the sacrifices and offerings; it does reject a wrong spirit or impure motives behind offerings.

Sacrificing is an outward spiritual act that must be accompanied by an inward act of sacrifice—by a proper attitude.  That attitude is one of drawing near and of offering ourselves.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”  (Romans 12:1)


A Jewish man prays in the morning at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.  He is wearing tefillin (phylacteries).  The boxes of the phylacteries contain parchment inscribed with verses of Torah.

The giving of offerings was interrupted in AD 70 with the destruction of the Second Temple.

Until the Temple is restored, along with its sacrificial system, the Jewish People hope that reciting the Morning Prayer service will take the place of the actual offerings of the Temple service.

Here is a portion from Shacharit (the morning service):

Master of the worlds, You commanded us to bring the continual offering at its set time, and the Kohanim be at their assigned service, the Levites on their platform, and the Israelites at their station.  But now, through our sins, the Holy Temple is destroyed, the continual offering is discontinued, and we have neither Kohen at his service, nor Levite on his platform, nor Israelite at his station.  But You said:  “Let our lips compensate for the bulls (Hosea 14:2)—therefore may it be Your will, HaShem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that the prayer of our lips be worthy, acceptable and favorable before You, as if we had brought the continual offering at its set time and we had stood at its station.  (The Complete Artscroll Siddur)

After this petition, additional prayer details the various offerings and sacrifices.


Peace offerings from the herd could be male or female.

Most rabbis believe that when the Messiah comes, the Temple will be rebuilt and the sacrifices will be restored.

The Talmud (rabbinic writings) states, however, that only peace offering will be offered in the Temple in the Messianic Age because there will be no more sin at that time and these offerings have nothing to do with atonement.

Even today, preparations are being made in Israel for this great day, as can be seen at the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, which has prepared the holy vessels for the Third Temple.


A model of the Second Temple

Besides prayer (tefillah), essential elements of fulfilling the outward act and inner attitude of offering to God include the study of His law and teachings (Torah), repentance (t’shuvah), the giving of charity (tzedakah), and the doing of good deeds (gemillat chassadim).

This leads us to consider the other Hebrew word related to korban (offering): krav, which means battle.

“Baruch Adonai Tsuri, Hamelamed yadai la’krav.  Blessed be the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for battle.”  (Psalm 144:1)

Giving an acceptable offering or sacrifice to the Lord might involve an inward battle.

Although we cannot participate in the korbanot described in Vayikra, we are called upon to offer up our own bodies as living sacrifices, a type of olah (ascending offering) perhaps.  (Romans 12:1)

How are we, in a practical sense, to be these living sacrifices—holy and pleasing to God?

Paul explains that we are to be transformed in our behaviors, attitudes, and ways of thinking by renewing our minds in the Word of God.

Holiness is a very important issue for every covenant child of God; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.  (Hebrews 12:14)

Selichot-Jewish man-Prays-Western Wall-Jerusalem

A Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

The ways of holiness are often diametrically opposed to the ways of the world; therefore, we are not to conform to the world or our old way of life.

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  (Ephesians 4:22–24)

The world teaches us to manipulate and deceive, if necessary, to get what we want; but the Word of God tells us to speak truthfully and deal honestly.

The world tells us to get even with those who mistreat us; Yeshua taught us not to take vengeance but to forgive and bless everyone.

The world encourages us to follow the lust of our eyes; God commands us to be sexually pure and to express our sexuality only within the boundaries of a covenantal marriage relationship.

The world feeds the greediness of our flesh that always desires more and is never satisfied; the Torah forbids covetousness and commands us to be content with that which God provides.


Jewish men of Ethiopian descent pray in Israel.

Holiness is more about submitting our will to the authority of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) than about controlling outward behaviors.

If we let God’s Spirit guide our lives, we will not carry out the sinful desires of our flesh, which wage war with the soul.  (Galatians 5:16; 1 Peter 2:11)

Through Yeshua, we can offer up ourselves to the God of Israel, loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, giving Him the sacrifice of praise, honor, glory, and thanksgiving due His name.

God’s intention is that through Yeshua we become a Temple of the Living God.

Today, therefore, let us draw near in holiness, offering up the sacrifices of praise!

“Through Yeshua, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess His name.”  (Hebrews 13:15)

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