David Kolinsky
David Kolinsky

waYiQRa/ – Closely Approaching God thru Experience

God wants us to be close. HaShem does not need to eat, nor have a need for us to sacrifice from our resources to be appeased. Offerings to HaShem do not ensure peace, a good livelihood, or the satisfaction of our needs. The word QaRBaN (קרבן offering) comes from the word QaRaBh (קרב) meaning to approach more closely. But what type of closeness can be attained with God and how does the killing of animals and the splattering of their blood or the offering of baked goods get a person closer to God? One can argue that sacrificing of one’s resources shows a commitment and thus brings a person closer to God. Furthermore, one can argue that rituals imbued with holiness can bring a person closer to God. Lastly, the argument has been made that the early Israelites, having previously been accustomed to making sacrifices to deities, were unable to suddenly leave behind such sacrifices. However, allegorically the ideal way to be close to God is by participating in God’s creation, by engaging God in God’s bringing forth of existence, by fully participating in the experiences that God creates for each of us. The linguistic symbolism represented by the words used for each offering serve as a bridge to bring a person closer to God and God’s bringing forth of existence.

In Hebrew, the book of Leviticus opens with the word waYiQRa/ (ויקרא – And he was calling) ending with an unusually small letter aleph. The word QaRa/ (קרא to call) evolved from the word QaRaH (קרה to happen).1 Essentially, both words mean to approach more closely with the former meaning to call closer and the later meaning to come close > to happen. The smallness of the letter aleph allows the reader to entertain both verbs. The happening (ויקר) or calling closer (ויקרא) to Moshe (our mental faculty drawing out particular things from a midst the many stirring things encountered in experience)2 enables us to approach more closely to God’s bringing forth of existence (Y-H-W-H). Furthermore, this act of calling Moshe closer, the beckoning to come closer, is from the tent of meeting (ohel moed) – the place of becoming familiar of (one’s) being enduringly (mentally) present.3 This is the act to which God is calling us closer, to the becoming familiar with the things that HaShem creates for us as a result of our being enduringly (mentally) present with God’s bringing forth of existence.

The parashah introduces us to different types of offerings: the ascension offering (עלה \oLaH), the meal offering (מנחה MiNHhaH), the peace offering (זבח שלמים ZeBhaHh Sh’LaMim), the sin offering (חטאת ChaTa/T) and the guilt offering (אשם /aShaM). Allegorically, each of these represent different ways of approaching God and God’s bringing forth of existence more closely. The ascension offering (עלה \oLaH) represents a person’s meandering about a scene so as to busy oneself with things. The essence of the related verbal roots (עלה עלל מעל) is not to be above or to elevate but rather to move about or around. One can move and go about and take oneself around (עלל \alaL); and one can circumvent (מעל Ma\aL), maneuvering around something or someone that they wish to avoid; and a statement can be ‘about” (על \aL) something in the sense of being in such close proximity to it that it is germane to it. The particular root meaning to ascend (עלה \aLaH) reflects a the special sense of being about something, where the object is about something on the vertical, rather than the horizontal plane – hence above it. In contrast, the poorly translated meal or MinHhaH offering (מנחה MiNHhaH) etymologically comes from the verb MaNaHh (מנח) which in Ugaritic means “to deliver; delivery, contribution, tribute; offering” and in Arabic “to grant, give, accord, bestow, confer; gift, present, grant, and donation.” The root from which this evolved, NaHhaH (נחה), has a sense of leaning in or inclining toward something.4 Hence, this offering represents a person’s (somewhat tepidly) leaning in or inclining toward an aspect of experience. Similarly, the peace offering (זבח שלמים ZeBhaHh Sh’LaMim) allegorically is not about peace at all. Rather, the root ShaLaM (שלם) – which at its essential core means to suspend > submit to, complete or finish – here implies a person’s yielding (submitting) to different things encountered in experience.5 These three offerings represent a continuum of ways of approaching closer to God’s bringing forth of existence – from the proactive ascension offering, to the more hesitant meal offering, to the yielding of the peace offering.

On the other hand, the rituals associated with the sin offering (חטאת ChaTa/T) and the guilt offering (אשם /aShaM) represent how to compensate for having inadvertently veered off from, missed or circumvented an aspect of God’s bringing forth of existence. The word for sin, ChaeT/ (חטא), literally means “to veer off > deflect, miss the mark.” At times, the intensive form of the verb (piel) and the reflexive form means the opposite, “to veer back > re-aim.” As such, the word reflects more of a mistake than a sin. A sin offering (חטאת ChaTa/T), therefore, is an opportunity to remedy what might have been missed. Allegorically, the word ChaTa/T (חטאת sin offering) means “a rectification from having veered off (from something).” Likewise, the word for guilt offering (אשם /aShaM) shares a cognate in Ugaritic where it means “to be indebted.” The word evolved from the root SuM-SYM (שים שום to put or place), hence it is analogous in meaning to the English “to be put upon.” Essentially, it means that a person is indebted to make something right, having incurred guilt for a misdeed. Therefore, it is frequently associated with the word for a sin offering and allegorically represents “one’s being imposed upon in being obligated to rectify (having veered off from something in experience).”

Unfortunately, it would be impossible to review the many different variations of the rituals performed, each representing a different way of approaching God’s bringing forth of existence based on the type of animal being sacrificed. The reason for this is because each animal, based upon the meaning of its name, represents a different behavior. Take for example, an ascension offering (עלה \oLaH) or allegorically, an act of meandering about a scene so as to (mentally) busy oneself with things. This offering can either be of an act of making an investigation (בקר cattle)6 or of an act of considering things from a distance (of the flock צאן),7 or of feeling ensnared, averse and weary (עוף fowl).8 In the case of the cattle or the flock, the animal must be a perfect male (זכר), representing a person’s being of “perfect mental clarity.”9 This is because both animals represent an ardent and committed investigation of the scene, the scene of God’s bringing forth of existence. However, since the allegorical meaning of the word for female also bears positive connotations of “being receptive,”10 whereas the fowl represents a person’s feeling weary and averse to God’s bringing forth of existence, no mention of the animal’s sex is specified. Instead, the behavior is to be either one of seeking alternatives (תורים turtledove)11 or from the behaviors of asserting oneself reluctantly (יונה pigeon).12

Because each animal represents a different way for a person to approach closer toward God’s bringing forth of existence, the slaughtering of that animal is performed in a different location. If it is of an act of making an investigation (cattle), then the ritual occurs at the opening of the act of becoming familiar with things in being enduringly (mentally) present (opening of the ohel moed) before the many aspects of God’s bringing forth of existence. On the other hand, if of an act of considering things from a distance (of the flock), then the ritual occurs upon the prolonging of the act of flowing forth of oneself (the long part of the altar),13 moving toward one’s pondering over the scene14 (toward the north end צפנה) before the many aspects of God’s bringing forth of existence. In complete contrast, when averse to approaching God’s bringing forth of existence (fowl), it is necessary to remove the “feeling fearful (the bird’s crop),”15 throw it to the periphery of the act of flowing forth (the side of the altar),16 moving toward advancing forward in experience (toward the east side).17

Both the word for blood (דם DaM) and the word for altar (מזבח MiBae’aHh) literally mean “a flowing forth.” The word for blood, DaM (דם), literally means “what flows forth.” It evolved from the root DaWaH (דוה – to flow) and is therefore related to the word DaYo (דיו – fluid, ink) and DaY (די sufficient (flow) > enough). Furthermore, from the word blood, (דם DaM) literally meaning “what flows” evolved the words DaMaH (דמה – congestion) and DaMa\ (דמע – tears, pouring forth of juice). On the other hand, the verb ZaBhaHh (זבח – make an offering, sacrifice) evolved from ZaBhaH (זבה – to flow), perhaps due to the flowing of blood that occurs with ritual offering. While the word for blood represents “what flows forth in experience” or what happens in experience as a consequence of an activity taken; the word for altar represents “a (person’s) flowing forth of oneself” or a means of taking action. Of course, before a person can flow forth with an experience and before an experience can flow over a person, it is first necessary for the person to lean into that experience. This is the allegorically meaning of the word for slaughter (שחט ShaChaT).18

In the same way that different animals and locations represent different behaviors based on the literal meaning of those words, the words for different body parts also can convey specific behaviors, observations or things observed. For example, the word for head, Ro/Sh (ראש) literally means “the place of seeing” from the verb Ra/aH (ראה). It is for this reason that many offerings require one to maintain the hands on the head of the offering. The word for hand, YaD (יד), literally means “what extends (reaches) outward”19 and can also be used to imply power. The most frequent allegorical use for the word hand is to represent “the power of one’s reach.” Therefore, the individual maintains “the power of their reach” upon the seeing that is associated with the act of meandering about so as to mentally busy oneself with things (the head of the ascension offering) or upon the seeing associated with the act of rectifying having veered off from God’s bringing forth of existence (the head of the sin offering) or upon the seeing associated with the act of approaching experience more closely (the head of the QaRBaN).

Another frequent mention is the peritoneal fat or HhaeLeBh (חלב). Literally meaning “what clings,” the allegorical meaning comes from the Arabic ChaLaB (חלב) meaning “to captivate and fascinate.” Hence, the peritoneal fat represents “what is captivating” in the scene. In our parashah, the peritoneal fat is usually mentioned in relation to the peace offering – the flowing forth of oneself of many acts of yielding to things. The peritoneal fat can be found on the intestines referred to here as the QeReBh (קרב) meaning “innards (lit. what is close),” but allegorically referring to the act of approaching more closely. The text has a frequent refrain: “the peritoneal fat, the one covering the innards, and all of the peritoneal fat that is upon the innards.” Since the word for cover (מכסה MiKhSeH) literally means “what makes impressions (marks),”20 allegorically it is: “what is captivating, the one making impressions on one’s approaching more closely, and what is captivating that is upon the approaching more closely.” It should not be surprising that a person engages what is captivating in a scene when that person is yielding to things found there. The refrain continues with: “and the two kidneys and the peritoneal fat that is upon them, that is upon the (peritoneal) gutters.” The word for kidneys (כליות K’LaYoT) literally means “containers” and allegorically implies an embracing (containing) of something. The word for gutters, K’SaLim (כסלים), is derived from the same root as to cover (כסה KaSaH), to make an impression. However, this represents a single line like impression that forms the shape of a gutter or channel. Because of the invariable nature of a straight impression, this root means both foolishness (inflexible-rigid behavior) and a line of thinking (unwavering thought). Allegorically, it represents: “the starts21 of acts of embracing things, and what is captivating that is upon them, that is upon the many lines of impressions.” The final component of this refrain is: “And the extra (lobe) upon the liver, upon the kidneys, he shall remove.” Although the word “he shall remove” applies to all three components of the refrain on the peshat (usual translation), allegorically, it only applies to this final part. The word for liver (כבד – KaBhaeD) literally means “what is heavy” and allegorically implies “what is intense (found in experience). So allegorically, the person is being told that whatever is excessive of what is intense, above the acts of embracing things from experience (kidneys),” he shall remove (disregard).

In a way analogous to the animal offerings, the components of meal offerings (minchah) also represent behaviors. For example, Matsah (מצה) literally means “what is wrung out” or more fundamentally “what is striven with.” The word is etymologically related to the verbs NiTsaH (נצה to strive) and TsaWaH (צוה to strive with > command). The word for fine flour, SoLeT (סלת), evolved from the verb SaLaH (סלה) meaning “to draw up (into the air).” This verb also evolved into verbs reflecting virtuous behaviors: SaLSaL (סלסל high esteem) and SaLaL (סלל extol, elevate oneself). Therefore, SoLeT (fine flour) represents a behavior of drawing oneself upward in an admirable way. The word for oil, SheMeN (שמן), represents “an act of exuding” into experience.22 Sometimes, the allegorical meaning of a word can come, not from the etymological source of that word, but rather from that of a false cognate. The word for salt, MeLaHh (מלח), literally means “what crumbles” having evolved from MaLaH (מלה to fray). However, there is another root, spelled M.L.Hh (מלח), that means “to balance and to maintain a steady commitment.” This verb evolved from the root LaWaHh (לוח) meaning “to be well joined, committed.” Given that a meal offering represents a person’s (tepidly) leaning in or inclining toward experience; it is important that such an offering include a person’s striving, drawing oneself upward, exuding into experience, and a balanced and steady commitment. Finally, a meal offering cannot be leavened (חמץ HhaMaeTs), because this represents an angry, belligerent and violent hot headedness23 that does not go with a person’s (tepidly) leaning in or inclining toward experience.

There are many other particular details that could be discussed regarding parashat waYiQRa/ and the many different ways of approaching God’s bringing forth of existence (Y-H-W-H) represented by the various offerings and the numerous rituals required for each. Nevertheless, the take home message is as follows: although the slaughtering of animals as a means of approaching God may seem outdated and archaic – from an allegorical point of view, the study of each and every detail of each and every offering can truly aid a person to approach God more closely by engaging with the details of our every day experience, God’s bringing forth of existence.

1 – approach closely – Roots based on the biliteral root Q.R. (קר) essentially mean “to get in very close”: KaRaH (קרה to come upon, happen occur); QaRa/ (קרא to call closer, call out to, meet, call and read); QaRaBh (קרב to approach); QaRaM (קרם to cover closely, membrane, encrust, plate); QaRaN (קרן horn, to project); QaRa\ (קרע (get closely into) to tear into, to put on eye liner); QaRaSh (קרש to contract, gnash, bite into); QaRaS (קרס to stoop, clasp); QaRaTs (קרץ to pinch off, squint, purse); NaQaR (נקר to gouge, chisel); ShaQaR (שקר to gouge > deceive, lie).
2 – Moshe (משה) allegorically complex, with all of the details of the story, the archetype of Moshe means: “A behavior of being mindfully present with many startling things coming in from experience, in mentally clinging to a scene, sucking up some details and looking them over, considering the many possible directions that one particular thing may go, being more mindful of it, channeling this one particular thing while subduing the thoughts about the others, and in showing resolve and being decisive in attending to this one particular thing, making it a priority, thus drawing it out from a midst the many other stirring things found in experience.” Simplied: “the mental faculty drawing out particular things from a midst the many stirring things encountered in experience.” The verb MaShaH (משה) simply means “to draw out.”
3 – tent of meeting (אהל מועד /oHeL Mo\aeD) Allegorically: the act of becoming familiar of being enduringly (mentally) present. In Arabic, the root /aHaL (אהל tent) means “take a wife, be familiar, inhabited; enable, qualify, competence, aptitude).” The following roots all mean: “to endure in place or time.”testimony (עדות – \aeduT); enduring (עד – \aD); evident-witness (עד – \aeD); endure, meet, appoint (יעד Ya\aD) > meeting (מועד Mo\eD);
4 – meal or MinHhaH offering (מנחה MiNHhaH) etymologically comes from the verb MaNaHh (מנח) Ugaritic: “to deliver; delivery, contribution, tribute; offering” & Arabic “to grant, give, accord, bestow, confer; gift, present, grant, and donation.” MaNaHh (מנח) evolved from NaHhaH (נחה), has a sense of leaning in or inclining toward something. Cognate with NaHhaH (נחה) is the Arabic (נחא – to wend one’s way, go, move, walk, turn toward > follow, imitate; BUT Also (incline >) lean, push aside, remove, yield, withdraw), Also from NaHhaH (נחה) is NaHhaL (נחל (to push toward) inherit) and NaHhaT (נחתּ to take down, put at the disposal of, bring, reach for ((Ugaritic)).
5 – peace offerings (שלמים) Allegorically: yielding to or submiting oneself to things; from the root ShaLaM (שלם suspend, complete, submit, make peace, make restitution). The most roots Sh.L.literally mean “to suspend, dangle.” For example, שולים – skirt, train, abdomen; שלה – to be lax, relax; שלל to let fall; שלח – to let loose (Syr – slough off) > send forth > שלך to cast; שלם – to suspend > complete, submit to > peace, compensate.
6 – cattle (בקר – BaQaR, those who investigates) & morning (בוקר – BoQaeR, time of investigation). From the root meaning “to investigate, search.”
7 – flock (צאן – Tso/N) essentially means “what holds back”. Cognate with Arabic S^WN-S^/N (to protect / guard/ safeguard, preserve, conserve, sustain; seclude o.s, protect o.s, be chaste); Th^N ((regard = re – guard >) to think, believe, deem, suspect, suppose, consider, presume); and D^N (to keep back, be stingy, thrifty, meager >) in due consideration of
8 – fowl (עוף \oPh) The root from which this word evolved is not entirely clear to me. It could have come from HhaPhaH (חפה to bend, curve) > Syriac: (עף – to fold over, double, multiply, increase); OR from /aPhaH (אפה (to cover the face) > to bake; which evolved to אפף to smother (the face)). The allegorical meaning comes from the related verbs: Arabic (עף – to shrink from, refrain, abstain, abstinent, modest, chaste, decent, pure) and (עאף – to loathe, have an aversion, feel disgust, proud, disdainful) which are related to the Hebrew עיף tired, weary.
9 – male (זכר – ZaKhaR) literally means “one clearly manifest” (referring to evident genitalia) from the verb “to be clear, hence to remember (be clear in mind) from ZaKhaH (זכה – (to be clear) be pure, free of guilt, right / justified, innocent, be acquitted / right, to be privileged. Also note (Syriac – (manifest something with clarity) use magic arts; bring up a familiar spirit; divine using a spirit).
10 – female (נקבה N’QaeBhaH) Allegorically: being receptive (to things found in experience). Related to NaQaBh (נקב socket, to penetrate, pierce, bore into-out) from QuBh (קוב to make a vault, receptacle)(which is related to QaBhaL (קבל to receive, accept)).
11 – turtledoves (תורים ToRim) Allegorically: seeking alternatives. From TuR (תור to search, spy out).
12 – pigeon (יונה YoNaH) Allegorically: behaviors of asserting oneself reluctantly. From the verb YaNaH (ינה to assert oneself hesitantly, reluctantly, apprehensively), according to Jastro: to be undecided, to waver; because the action is not necessarily followed through with can also mean: threatening, menacing. Evolved from /aNaH (אנה to assert, impose oneself).
13 – long part of the altar (ירך המזבח YeReKh haMiZBae’aHh). Allegorically: prolonging of the act of flowing forth of oneself. The word YeReKh (ירך – long part) evolved from /aRaKh (ארך to be long (physically and temporaly). Altar (מזבח – miZBae’aHh) Allegorically refers to the way in which a person flows forth. The verb ZaBhaHh (זבח – make an offering, sacrifice) evolved from ZaBhaH (זבה – to flow), perhaps due to the flowing of blood that occurs with ritual offering.
14 – north end (צפן TsaPhoN) Allegorically: one’s pondering over the scene. The root TsaPhaH (צפה to cover over, to plate) evolved into TsaPhaN (צפן to cover > hide, store) and (צפן TsaPhoN) probably means North because the mountains in the North (Lebanon) are frequently covered with snow. Additionally from the idea of having something covered visually, TsaPhaH (צפה to cover > to guard, watch, look for) evolved into the Arabic cognate of TsaPhaN (צפן to ponder).
15 – bird’s crop (מראה MuR/aH). Allegorically: “feeling fearful.” This word for crop comes from MaRa/ (מרא manly, virile). Coincidentally, the verb YaRa/ (ירא to be afraid, in awe) has noun (מוראה MuRa/aH) meaning fear.
16 – the side of the altar (אצל המזבח) Allegorically: periphery of the act of flowing forth. The root /TsL(אצל – to put to the side, periphery; adjacent / peripheral / next to, beside). The verb ZaBhaHh (זבח – make an offering, sacrifice) evolved from ZaBhaH (זבה – to flow), perhaps due to the flowing of blood that occurs with ritual offering.
17 – east side (קדם QeDeM) Allegorically: advancing forward in experience. From the verb QaDaM (קדם to be before, in front, to precede, advance forward, to do early. Hence east due to the early rising of the sun in the east.
18 – slaughter (people or animals) (שחט – ShaChaT) from HhaTaH (חטה – to incline, lean into) > ChaTa/ (חטא – to veer off, sin). Compare cognates: Ugaritic: butcher, slaughterer; Arabic: be annoyed / displeased / angry, to resent, wrath; exasperation; Syriac: to harm, mar, abuse, impair, vitiate, infringe, violate (law / woman)
19 – hand (יד YaD) Allegorically: the power of one’s reach. The noun evolved from /aDaH (אדה) which literally means to extend outward (from DaWaH (דוה) to flow) hence: /aeD (אד extending mist) and /UD (אוד poker, firebrand). Therefore: YaD (יד hand) literally means “what extends outward.”
20 – cover (מכסה MiKhSeh) from K.S.H (כסה) which means “to make marks, cuts, impressions and to cover over.”
21 – Sh’Tai (שתי), meaning two, comes from Sh’NaTayim (שנתים) > Sh’Tayim (שתים). However, the allegory comes from the verb ShaTaT (שתת) meaning “to set up / out to do something, to start something or lay the foundation for.”
22 – oil (שמן – SheMeN) & eight (שמונה – Sh’MoneH) literally mean “what exudes outward.” It evolved from the verb MaNaH (מנה) – to distribute, count, assign, classify. The number is possibly based on the image of putting the two hands together palms down, with the thumbs tucked under the palms with eight fingers splayed out like the exuding of oil (or maybe not).
23 – leavened bread (חמץ – chamaets). The same root as the word chomaets (חומץ) meaning a violent person (Ps71:4). The root ChaMaTs is closely related to the words ChaMaS (חמס) meaning violent / belligerent and ChaeMaH (חמה) meaning anger.

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About the Author
David Kolinsky is a retired physician born and raised in Monsey, New York. While living in Monterey California, David initially lived as a secular, agnostic Jew. However, in his spare time, he delved into twenty years of daily study of Hebrew etymology and Torah study culminating in the writing of an etymological dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and a metaphorical translation of Torah. Abandoning his agnostic views, David was simultaneously a spiritual leader of the world's smallest conservative synagogue, a teacher in his local reform synagogue, and a gabbai at Chabad. He is currently sheltering in place with his family in his new home in Plano, Texas.
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