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Vayikra 5769-2009

Shlamim: Expressing Wholehearted Gratitude”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

In parashat Vayikra we learn of the various animal sacrifices that are offered to G-d on the Brass (or earthen) Altar. The parasha opens with the rules and regulations regarding the sacrifice known as Olah, the burnt offering and its various forms, followed by the Mincha, the meal offering that accompanied every Olah and Shlamim.

In the opening verses of Leviticus 3, we learn about the Shlamim, the Peace offering. Leviticus 3:1 reads, “V’im zevach shlamim korbano,” If his offering be a Peace offering, it may be brought of the herd, either a male or female, or of the flock–a male or female sheep or goat.

The commentators offer a host of reasons to explain why this sacrifice is called “Shlamim.” Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105, foremost commentator on the Bible) maintains that this particular offering has the power of increasing Shalom, peace, in the world. Others suggest that it is called a Peace offering, because all are happy with it. The owner and his guests get to eat of the flesh of the animal, as does the Cohen, the priest. Even G-d is satisfied, because part of the sacrifice was dedicated to Him and burned on the altar. Others say that the Shlamim offering increases peace between heaven and earth, due to the donor’s desire to unite both worlds.

The Ramban (Nachmanides, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270, Spanish Torah commentator), maintains that the essential meaning of the word Shlamim is derived from the Hebrew word Shlaymut, meaning wholeheartedness, because a person brings this offering not to atone for sin, but rather simply out of a sense of gratitude.

Although not specified in our parasha, other sacrifices fall into the category of Shlamim as well. A Shlamim may be offered by a person who wishes to simply volunteer an offering without any ulterior motive. It may also be brought in fulfillment of a vow, or as an expression of gratitude. Consequently, the Shlamim offering may come in the form of a Todah, a Thanksgiving offering, which is brought when someone experiences a danger, is released from prison, or crosses a desert. It is similar to the blessing, Ha’gomel, that is often recited today as an expression of thanks after a dangerous encounter. Festival offerings also fall into the category of Shlamim. Hence, the Chagiga and Simcha offerings that are brought on the three festivals, and the two loaves of bread that are brought on Shavuot together with the lambs, are also considered part of the Shlamim family of sacrifices.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888, the great Bible commentator and leader of German Jewry) distinguishes between the various sacrifices that are found in parashat Vayikra. The Olah, the Burnt offering, maintains Rabbi Hirsch, seeks to achieve closeness to G-d. The Mincha, the Meal offering, represents material wealth, the joy and satisfaction that one may express for one’s material security recognizing how much is owed to G-d for His generosity. The Shlamim, the Peace offering, is offered by a person who is completely satisfied with his life, as if nothing is lacking. That is why it is regarded as a “complete” sacrifice.

Rabbi Hirsch points out a very interesting nuance in the words of Leviticus 3:1 which states, “Im min ha’bakar hoo makriv,” If he offers a Shlamim sacrifice from the cattle. Shlamim sacrifices, he notes, with the exception of the Shavuot sacrifice, are brought only by individuals, hence the emphasis on the word, “hoo” (meaning he, singular). Rabbi Hirsch astutely maintains that a nation generally does not bring a Peace offering, because a nation can only be happy if the individual members of the nation are happy. That is why in the biblical text, the Peace offering is usually accompanied by the Hebrew word, “zevach.” Although the root of the word means to slaughter, it also means a celebratory, festive offering.

What can be more fulfilling for a nation, than for individual citizens to say, “I’m happy with my life”? What can be more festive for a family, than to celebrate holidays together, in joy and happiness? What can be more rapturous for large numbers of individuals in a community, than to express their wholehearted happiness to G-d by offering a gift with a full heart, expecting nothing in return?

While the ritual of animal sacrifice is often regarded as being, at best, rather irrelevant and out of place in the modern world, and, at worst, something primitive, we see that there are many truly cogent messages that are of great import to us that are communicated through these ancient rites and rituals.

What a privilege it is to be able to express gratitude, not for something that we’ve received, but simply in acknowledgment of the mundane fact that everything is simply okay. When we’re able to do that, we can truly feel “shalaym,” complete and at peace.

May you be blessed.