Parshat Vayikra: Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Hooves

Parshat Vayikra: Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Hooves
Leviticus 2:13

וְהִפְשִׁ֖יט אֶת־הָעֹלָ֑ה וְנִתַּ֥ח אֹתָ֖הּ לִנְתָחֶֽיהָ׃

The burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into sections.

When a sacrifice is made it is not burned whole, but rather cut into pieces. As evidenced by the careful ordering of the limbs and entrails for each offering, this is more than a practical measure. It holds symbolic value for the one who brought the offering.

As the parts of the animal are raised and placed on the altar, the owner of the sacrifice is meant to reflect on their own body. For instance, for the one seeking atonement for a transgression, when they see the legs of the animal raised on to the altar they might meditate on the role their legs played in committing the transgression, walking them to the place where they sinned. When they see the head, they might consider what role their intellect played in justifying their decision. As each part of the sacrifice was raised, they would consider their transgression in minute detail, seeking forgiveness for the role that each part of their own body played in having gone astray.

Our bodies are tools more intricate than could be imagined. It’s easy to forget that the actions we perform with our bodies are made up of dozens of smaller actions. The steps we take matter. The movements of our hands matter. Our intellectual justification for the act matters. The gut feeling leading us to do the act matters. To truly change we can’t merely promise not to do something again. We need to understand with specificity how each part of us was responsible in completing the act, and only then are we ready to act precisely and intentionally next time.