Vayikra/Leviticus 1:16 And he shall remove its crop with its digestive tract and he shall throw it ... to the place of the ashes.
This verse contains two unusual words not used in these exact forms elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures: , here translated "its crop", and , here translated "with its digestive tract". - a feminine noun with a 3ms suffix (relating to the bird) - comes from the root , which is not used in Hebrew, but whose cognate in Arabic means "to be well fed or fat". - a feminine noun with the prefix ('in' and sometimes 'with') and a 3fs suffix (relating to the crop) - is thought to come from the root , "to go out", so perhaps denoting part or all of the digestive tract or excretion organ.Targum Onkelos seems to agree, translating this word as "excrements".
TheRashbam and Ibn Ezra point out that is used in, "Ah, sullied, polluted, overbearing city!" (Zephaniah 3:1, JPS) as the word 'sullied' (filthy or rebellious in some versions). Rashbam comments that the Hebrew word has the connotation of disgusting filth. Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides, pointing out that the noun appears in Ezekiel 17:3, where it is translated as plumage or feathers, and as a verb in Jeremiah 48:9 to mean "fly away", insist that it means feathers and refers to part of the feathers of the bird that the priest must tear away in order to remove the crop. Baruch Levine explains that "the crop was too dirty to be placed on the altar, so it was assigned to the ash heap near the altar". In spite of being dirty, however, it was still considered to be holy - because the bird had been offered to the L-rd - so it was placed with the ashes that are taken out each morning, outside the camp to a clean place (Vayikra 6:10-11).
Why should the crop and the digestive tract be considered unclean or unsuitable for being part of a burnt offering?Rashi explains that animal sacrifices eat only out of the feeding troughs of their owners, so "its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water, and the priest shall burn all of it on the altar" (Vayikra 1:9, ESV), and the whole animal including the stomach and digestive tract are simply washed and burnt on the altar. Birds, on the other hand, Rashi continues, often take their food from anything they find; wild birds (such as pigeons or turtledoves, the birds in question in these instructions) often steal food by eating farmers' grain, grapes or fruit, browsing in farm-yards or fields. As such, their crops and digestive organs are unfit for being an offering to the L-rd.
DonAbravanel points out that following Rashi's logic that the food was stolen, the whole bird should thrown away and not permitted as an offering, were it not for Rambam's comment (in Mishneh Torah) about stolen goods in general. He says that once a stolen item has been changed in form then it is considered 'acquired' by the thief and is not returned or unfit, although the thief remains liable to pay for what was originally stolen. In the case of the birds, although the food may have been stolen, its form has been changed by digestion and its components - vitamins, minerals, proteins - become a part of the bird, so the bird itself may be used as an offering, but any unchanged food - in the crop or undigested in the gut - must be rejected as possibly stolen.
In the same way then, as the potentially unacceptable parts of a sacrifice are removed and not offered to the L-rd, we too need to be careful of the offerings we bring to the L-rd today. First of all, the substance of the offering - be that money or in kind - must be honestly earned or owned by the giver; it must be legally and morally his to give and not a product of extortion or oppression. During the days of the slave trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, those who were opposed to the trade were minded to reject financial gifts or offerings that were derived from West Indian plantations - worked by slaves - or profits made either directly from slave trading or from the sale of sugar and other products produced by slaves. Secondary sanctions extended to those who designed or made slave ships, crewed or chandlered the ships or in way aided the trade or handled its affairs. Such money was considered tainted and unfit for use in the kingdom of G-d. Shopkeepers, on the other hand, who traded in normal merchandise that was bought in fair custom by a person spending slave-trade money, would not have their profits regarded as slave money since they earned it in honest custom from many customers some of whom just happened to be spending money earned through the slave-trade.
How can this be applied today? Do we earn money through, accept dividends from, or invest - either directly by personal choice or indirectly through unit trusts or pension schemes - in businesses that may not be considered 'ethical'? A number of retailers sell products manufactured in Africa, South America or Asia by workers living in conditions not very different from slaves or the women and children in the mills and factories during the early years of the industrial revolution. Many companies are involved with tobacco and alcohol - manufacture, distribution or retail - in a way that clearly exploits the weak and vulnerable in our society and is responsible for many deaths and broken lives and families every year. Other businesses, often highly profitable to venture capitalists, are doing research and development in the medical and pharmaceutical fields that is pushing the boundary of both human ethics and animal welfare: stem cell research, cloning, drug development, using as raw materials un-needed or donated human embryos and the products of abortion. Still other firms make profit and minimise their responsibilities towards their employees by paying minimal wages for part-time staff in aggressive and performance intensive positions, knowing that the staff will soon move on or cannot afford to lose their jobs We must set ourselves apart from these practices and streams of money; however lucrative, we must ask questions about the welfare and ethics of all those with whom we are involved to ensure that we neither live on or offer to the L-rd tainted money that comes with the cries of the widows and orphans as the prophet said: "When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause" (Isaiah 1:15-17, ESV).
Secondly, our motives must be pure in our offerings to G-d. What we offer, we offer to Him from ourselves; a token of our lives being offered to Him. Rav Sha'ul "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to G-d, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1, ESV). How can we make an offering that is more designed to be noticed by others than by G-d? Yeshua spoke about this when He said, "Be careful not to parade your acts of tzedakah in front of people in order to be seen by them! If you do, you have no reward from your Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:1, CJB). Notice that He doesn't say simply "Don't parade", but "Be careful not to parade" - this means that we should take care not to be seen giving tzedakah - as the next verses point out: "When you do tzedakah, don't even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" (v. 3, CJB). James summarises, "The religious observance that G-d the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world" (James 1:27, CJB). We cannot buy G-d's favour or a place in heaven.
We must not, we dare not fail in this. As the Psalmist says: "Who may ascend the mountain of the L-RD? Who may stand in His holy place? - He who has clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3-4, . Our hands must be clean from dishonest, immoral or unethical gain and our hearts must be pure in our devotions to G-d. As Yeshua said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-21, NASB).
Further Study: Isaiah 32:9-16; Matthew 23:2-7
Application: Have you checked recently where your life and retirement investments are? Why not be prepared to accept a slightly lower return now for the sake of the ethical return of the kingdom.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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