Kolrev could not sleep. I need to sleep, he thought. I will not be able to function if I do not get enough sleep. He was troubled. He was troubled by God. He was troubled by all these commandments and instructions and demands that were being made of him. We did not know what we were getting into. How could we? Who would have ever imagined there would be so many commandments, with so many nuances, that apply to virtually every aspect of life? This is not right. It is not fair. We have not been given a choice. We have been tricked!
As he mused about God, he eventually became drowsy. Then, mentally checking to see if he was asleep, he ended up waking himself up again – but now he was even more exhausted than before. God, I hate this!
In the morning, the building called to him from afar. Even from the edge of the camp it stood out majestically amongst the arrayed tents. The Sanctuary had become the center of activity of the Israelite tribes since its inauguration. Kolrev had joined in the initial celebratory excitement, but had then grown ambivalent about its role in his life.
Kolrev walked a few paces towards the Sanctuary and stopped, kicking up dust from the dry, sandy ground. He turned around and walked back towards his tent. After a few more paces he stopped, turned yet again and walked back towards the Sanctuary. Once he could view the entrance to the Sanctuary courtyard, Kolrev stood still. He looked to either side of him to see if anyone had noticed his stop-and-go motions. Instead of pulling back yet again, he stopped the twisting of his foot, looked into the courtyard and, with uncharacteristic firmness, proceeded forward.
“Where can I find Itamar son of Aaron?” Kolrev asked one of the Levites in the Sanctuary courtyard.
“He is the freckled Kohen in the corner,” the Levite motioned.
Kolrev nodded his thanks with his round face and proceeded to approach Itamar.
Sensing the apprehension and the heavy footsteps nearing him, Itamar turned to the stocky, middle-aged man.
“Good day, brother,” Itamar smiled.
“Good day to you,” Kolrev answered. “My name is Kolrev from the Tribe of Menashe. Do you have some time to speak with me?”
“It would be my pleasure, Kolrev,” Itamar answered. “What can I help you with?”
“Well, it is about the sacrifices,” Kolrev said slowly. “I thought I should perhaps bring one. I have seen friends of mine bring sacrifices and they seem so happy and relieved afterward. But I am not sure what to bring.”
“I understand,” Itamar said. “It is a common inquiry. Let me start by asking you some questions. Do you wish to bring a sacrifice for a particular sin?”
“No,” Kolrev answered quickly. “I have always been obedient. In Egypt I was an obedient slave and ever since our release I have obeyed the commandments of God and Moses.”
“So do you wish to bring a thanks offering?” Itamar asked.
“Um, no. Not really. I am of course thankful for all that God has done for us, but I am not in a particularly grateful state of mind.”
“I see,” Itamar nodded understandingly. “So what seems to be the problem?”
“I am not sure,” Kolrev fidgeted with his hands. “I was ecstatic after we left Egypt and was awed when we received the commandments, but I feel that I have lost something since then. I do not feel the same connection I did then. Though I know it is the right thing to do, I do not feel very motivated to follow the commandments.”
“Oh,” Itamar mused.. “This is a serious matter. However, you have come to the right place. It is not a sin to be unmotivated, but there is a sacrifice we bring here that addresses exactly the issue you have described.”
“Really?” Kolrev stopped fidgeting. “What do I need to do?”
“There is a sacrifice called the ‘Olah’ – the elevation offering. It is completely consumed on the altar, as opposed to some of the other sacrifices. It is meant to reconnect you with the will of God and wholehearted performance of His commandments.”
“And what animal do I need to bring?”
“For what you have described, either a sheep or a goat.”
“That does not seem right to me,” Kolrev started fidgeting again.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, goats and sheep are puny animals, and I feel like I need to bring something more significant.”
“For someone who feels disconnected from the commandments, who is perhaps less enthusiastic about the details and their performance, the ‘Olah’ of a sheep or a goat is the prescribed sacrifice.”
“It is just that I feel that my disconnection is perhaps even deeper than just the commandments,” Kolrev looked down.
“I don’t understand.”
“I mean it is not only the commandments that I feel distant from or whose meaning eludes me. I feel distant from God Himself,” Kolrev whispered.
“Ah, yes,” Itamar nodded. “Then the ‘Olah’ of a bull will be more appropriate.”
Kolrev held the reins of the bull tightly as he slowly made his way to the courtyard. The bull he had bought from the merchant was tame and docile. Its massive bulk was somehow comforting to Kolrev.
“Good morning, Kolrev,” Itamar greeted him.
“Good morning. Here is the bull. What do we do now?”
“It is an involved process, however you need to remember, and not only remember, but feel and experience that the bull in a sense is replacing you. By transferring some of your essence, some of your life-force to the bull, the bull will take your place in front of God. If you take this seriously and internalize the process, you will feel as if you yourself are being sacrificed. At the end of the process you should feel closer to God. The bull will help bridge the distance you feel between yourself and Him. Come. Let us walk to the north side of the courtyard, where we will start the process and the slaughter.”
Kolrev saw other animals that had just been slaughtered. Elazar, Itamar’s older brother, garbed in white as well, collected the blood of a slaughtered goat in a vessel and then poured it on the altar. Kolrev noticed Aaron, the High Priest himself, in his beautiful garments, squeezing out the blood of a lifeless dove against the altar. He had witnessed much stranger worship in Egypt, but still did not understand how this would make him feel better, or closer to God.
“Here we are,” Itamar announced. “Would you like me or one of the Levites to slaughter your bull, or would you like to do it yourself?”
“I know how to slaughter an animal,” Kolrev puffed up his chest a bit. “I can do it myself.”
“Very well,” Itamar said. “The first step then, is for you to clasp the bull by the head. While you do that, imagine in your mind that you are transferring part of yourself to the bull – that the bull will be you and represent you in front of God.”
Kolrev looked at the big, placid bull. I have to do this correctly, Kolrev thought. I must be of a strong and settled mind if I am to continue with my life, if I am to sleep peacefully. He leaned forward while resting on the back of the bull, put his hands on either side of the bull’s warm head and closed his eyes. He felt its soft hairs. He imagined somehow moving his consciousness into the bull. Bull, he thought. You must represent me. A part of me must enter you. I can feel your pulse. I can feel your heart beat. It beats as mine does. I have been distant from God. I do not know why. Did I expect miracles all the time? Have I become numb to our supernatural existence? How did I lose meaning and purpose in my life? I do not know what to do, but I will do it. I hope this process helps. Bull. Take me.
Kolrev opened his eyes and looked at Itamar. Itamar handed him a large sharp knife. Kolrev instinctively ran his fingernail over the edge of the knife to make sure there were no nicks in it. Four muscle-bound Levites approached. They laid the bull down and then one of them clamped the bull’s neck to the ground with a large metal ring. Two of the Levites grabbed the bull’s legs in anticipation.
Kolrev then expertly slaughtered the bull. Blood gushed out of the incision at the neck. I can feel it! Kolrev was alarmed for a moment and touched his own neck to make sure it was still whole. I can feel its life force flowing away! Itamar kneeled down with a vessel in his hands and collected the bull’s flowing blood.
God. Yes, Kolrev thought. I would give my life up for You. My life seeps out of me by being distant from you. Let this life be a replacement for mine. Let my new life be worthy of you.
Itamar then took the vessel to the nearby altar while indicating to Kolrev that he should not move. Itamar poured liberal amounts of blood on two opposing corners of the altar.
May my blood be a consecration on the altar, Kolrev thought. May I connect with You and discover what I have been missing. Like you connected with us at Sinai, let us reconnect again via Your altar.
The four Levites surrounded the carcass of the bull. They each grabbed one leg and together hoisted the bull on to a nearby stand. A Levite offered Kolrev a different knife for cutting the bull. Kolrev swiftly skinned the bull and started to cut sections of the bull off. Two Levites draped the skin on a pole and took it away for further processing. Itamar joined Kolrev.
“First finish cutting the large sections,” Itamar pointed at the bull, “and we will bring them to the pyre on the altar. Afterwards we will take and wash the innards, which we will also bring to the pyre. Or, if you want, one of the Levites can continue the work.”
“No. I prefer to do it myself,” Kolrev said as he continued cutting into the bull’s body.
Just like I was dismembered from You, Kolrev contemplated, so I am dismembering this bull. I have been fragmented and incomplete; a lifeless husk waiting for inspiration, for the breath of your divine force.
Elazar and Aaron came over to watch Kolrev’s butchering skills. As Kolrev finished cutting the bull into large pieces, Aaron bent down and solemnly picked up the bull’s head, walking it slowly towards the ramp of the altar. Elazar and Itamar each gathered other bull parts and walked behind their father.
The High Priest himself is servicing me, Kolrev thought. What an honor. May they carry my spirit back to God just as they are carrying my sacrifice.
Aaron, Elazar and Itamar continued the back-and-forth process of carrying the remainder of the bull’s parts to the ramp of the altar.
Once all the parts were assembled on the ramp, Aaron took handfuls of salt and sprinkled it extensively on and around each individual piece. Aaron and his sons then took the pieces, and, in the same order as before, carried them further up the ramp and threw them into the roaring pyre. Kolrev stood mesmerized as he watched all of the pieces of the bull being consumed together.
I am yours God. All of me. Every part of me shall be consecrated to your work, to your Torah, to your commandments.
Then Kolrev smelled it. The smell of the burning meat. It was delicious. The aroma was so strong that he thought he would rise heavenward with it.
Ah, Kolrev thought. May the aroma of my offering be pleasant to you, God. May my actions and the motivation behind them be pleasant to You. May You accept this offering with all my heart and all my devotion and may I always remain close to You.
Aaron, Elazar and Itamar descended from the ramp and made their way to the washing basin. Kolrev joined them there and cleaned the grime off of himself. Aaron, majestic in his robes, addressed Kolrev:
“How do you feel, my son?”
“Elevated. Reconnected. I do not know why I felt distant or confused before, but this ‘Olah’ has changed my view and I think perhaps my life. Thank you,” Kolrev made a short bow to Aaron and his sons.
“This is our task,” Aaron answered with a smile, “to bring our brothers closer to each other and to God.”
* * * * * *
[note: italicized and indented verses are to indicate which parts of the procedure could only be done by the Kohen.]
3 If his offering be a burnt-offering of the herd, he shall offer it a male without blemish; he shall bring it to the door of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. 4 And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. 5 And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons, the priests, shall present the blood, and dash the blood round about against the altar that is at the door of the tent of meeting. 6 And he shall flay the burnt-offering, and cut it into its pieces. 7 And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay wood in order upon the fire. 8 And Aaron’s sons, the priests, shall lay the pieces, and the head, and the suet, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar; 9 but its inwards and its legs shall he wash with water; and the priest shall make the whole smoke on the altar, for a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto the Lord.
I found it challenging to come up with a storyline where there is no classical narrative and a heavy focus on technical details of bringing sacrifices. I have attempted to bring to life the process of the animal sacrifice, which is fairly alien to most of us.
Inspiration for this story came from classes on the sacrifices in Leviticus given by Dr. Yoni Grossman at Machon Herzog. I found especially intriguing the nuances he explained between bringing a bull as opposed to a smaller animal, especially in the case of no overt sin.
The excellent booklet “Sacrifice Handbook” by Rabbi Jonathan Mishkin was especially helpful with details of the sacrifice as well as two other books from his extensive library:
An Illustrated Guide to Korbonos and Menochos, by Rabbi Sinai Malowicki
Shiurim Be’Sefer Vayikra, by Eliezer Mordechai Ben-Shem