First in a Series! Rav Hirsch in Vayikra

Guest Contibution lz’n Rav Yisroel Plutchok

Moving through Sefer Vayikra Rav Hirsch sees symbolism in every nuance of the Temple service. In his Nineteen Letters the Rav takes issue with Rambam’s claim in the Moreh that there is no specific reason for the use of particular animals for particular sacrifices. In fact, Rav Hirsch feels that symbolism lies at the heart of mitzvah observance and infuses ritual with meaning. (For more on this see:


It is a well-known observation of the Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 117) that the service in the Temple is punctuated with gold and silver and every fine material as would befit the palace of a king.

Looking into this week’s sedrah we find a lo sa’aseh (a prohibition). (2;11) For all leaven and all honey you shall not bring upon my altar”. The ban from using leavened bread and honey upon the altar seems to imply that a certain amount of austerity is demanded in the service. “Do not bring the ephemeral pleasures of the world into My holy place!” G-d seems to be saying.


Now, Hashem builds a golden temple but forbids the use of honey and leaven? How will Rav Hirsch satisfy this seeming contradiction?

In fact, he doesn’t consider this a ban on using luxuries on the altar. In fact, there is much more to this.

  1. Every rule has an exception!

There is a time of the year that leaven is used in the Temple. That day is Shavuos, the festival of the giving of the Torah. On that day loaves of bread are bought to the temple and WAIVED as part of an animal sacrifice. Nevertheless, the waving of these loaves are called a “Korban Reishis” a “First Sacrifice”.

  1. The honey exception. Rav Hirsch shows that the honey that is verboden is in-fact a fruit derivative, and not bee’s honey. (Further, he says, that the famous term, “Land flowing with milk and honey” most likely refers to fruit juices and nectars just the same!) Ironically, on this same day of the year- Shavuos- we begin the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits of the year to the Temple and placing them- not on the altar- but before it.

So, we can’t bring leaven and honey on the altar -but on shavuos- we begin to wave them before the altar? Hmmm…

Rav Hirsch explains that the point here is as follows: The altar is where we dedicate ourselves through

But, on Pesach we see that unleavened bread – is a symbol of servitude. Leavened bread denotes freedom. The freedom of the Jewish nation, its independence and its statehood is not a possession of its own. It is Hashem who allows us to be a nation as long as we have accepted his Torah. The same goes for the pleasures of the sweet fruits of life. They are ours to enjoy- only once we have dedicated our main purpose in life to Torah- and only if they don’t become an end in themselves.

If we were to offer these on the altar, we would be claiming that statehood and luxuries are OURS. They are our right. That is not our approach. We may enjoy these in the context of serving Hashem. These come from him, they are not ours to give him.

Think of the following. You give someone a job and lift him from the throes of unemployment. In fact, you made him the head of a department. One day you come to look how things are running there. As you walk in this person tells you that you can check-in any time you want to. In fact, he says, you can be an honorary supervisor at the plant. This is not a flattering gift. This person obviously thinks the company is his! It is an insult. The same would be true if we were to offer leaven and honey in our sacrifices. It would presuppose the idea that these are our rights. The rights to live independently and comfortably. They are in fact, delicate principles that when unchecked, can out shadow their own purposes.

(For further reading see Mishnaso Shel Rav Shamshon Refoel Hirsch, Pg 175. Rabbi Yonah Emanuel. For the idea that if ascribing symbolism to mitzvos the symbols must be consistent with all the halachos involved. Also, Collected Writings Vol. 1 pg. 16-18. For chametz and matzo symbolisms. )

First in a Series! Rav Hirsch in Vayikra

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