Sacrifices Seen Through Love and Law
Leviticus Rabbah 8:3
ר’ יהודה ור”נ ורבנן ר”י אומר חביב קרבנם של נשיאים לפני הקב”ה כשירה שאמרו ישראל בים, שירה שאמרו ישראל בים (שמות טו) זה אלי ואנוהו וכאן כתיב (במדבר ז) זה קרבן נחשון בן עמינדב, ר”ג אמר חביב קרבנם של נשיאים לפני הקב”ה כשני לוחות הברית, בשני לוחות הברית כתיב (שמות לב) מזה ומזה הם כתובים, וכאן כתיב זה קרבן נחשון בן עמינדב, ורבנן אמרי חביב קרבנו של אהרן לפני הקב”ה כקרבן של נשיאים, בקרבנות של נשיאים כתיב זה קרבן נחשון בן עמינדב וכאן כתיב זה קרבן אהרן
R. Judah and R. Nahman and the Rabbis [gave expositions]. R. Judah said: The chieftains’ sacrifices were as beloved to the Blessed Holy One as the song which Israel uttered at the [Reed] Sea, [for they said], This is my God, and I will glorify Him . . .(Exod. 15:2), and then it is said, This was the sacrifice of Nahshon son of Amminadav . . . (Num. 7:17) R. Nahman said: The chieftains’ sacrifices were as beloved to the Blessed Holy One as the two Tablets of the Covenant. Of the two Tablets of the Covenant it is said, On this side and on this side were they written (Exod. 32:15), and then it is written,This is the sacrifice of Nahshon son of Amminadav . . . The Rabbis said: Aaron’s sacrifice was as beloved to the Blessed Holy One as the chieftains’ sacrifices. Regarding the chieftains’ sacrifices it is written, This is the sacrifice of Nahshon son of Amminadav . . . ; and here it is written, This is the offering that Aaron [and his sons shall offer . . . ] (Lev. 6:13)
Every year, the weeks during which the Torah portions of Leviticus are read, many Jews complain about the challenge of finding interest or meaning in such esoteric material. I, myself, also struggle to engage deeply with these texts when I forget that even our ancient Sages felt the need to bolster the relevance of these laws, which largely became defunct after the Second Temple was destroyed. The midrash above responds with poetic logic to those challenges by constructing an argument similar to a transitive equation regarding the mutuality of our relationship with God.
Based on the use of zeh (this) common to the four passages cited, the three midrashic teachings above form a unit based on an unstated insight. A close reading of Leviticus 6 and Numbers 7 reveals that Aaron and Nahshon offered their sacrifices on the same day, with the offerings of the other tribes’ chieftains’ occurring daily until just before the first anniversary of the Passover in Egypt. The text then equates God’s love for the devotion of Israel’s leadership with that of the Israelites’ grateful praise upon deliverance from slavery and of their receipt of Torah as a heavenly gift.
By reframing the sacrifices through teachings about love and law, revelation and redemption, this midrash challenges us to place ourselves within the romantic drama of Pesah. What will we offer to and seek from God in order to experience God’s love and care anew this season?