Vayikra: Dash or sprinkle?

sprinkle dashWelcome to the Mishkan, please line up with your personal offering.   Be it an offering of thanks, atonement, well-being, trespass or sin,  there is one thing common to what the priest does when you step up and slaughter the offering.  The priest will spread blood around the Tabernacle, the holy place.  There are lots of ways to spread something liquid around a space, and the text specifies two, through the verbs “hizah” (sprinkle) and “zarku” (dash).  They’re used in very specific instances.  For offerings of atonement or expiation, the priest dips his finger in the blood and he will sprinkle it seven times around the space.  For offerings of well-being, “shleimim”, the priest dashes the blood around the space.

The Torah uses “shleimim”, translated as “well-being”. It comes from the same root word as “shalom”, peace, but can also mean wholeness.  Rashi (11th c France) calls it “peace offerings”, in that these kinds of offerings spread peace around the world.  Rashbam (12th c France) calls it “fulfillment”, and Ibn Ezra (12th c Spain) translated the word as a “soul that is complete.”

The sprinkling is used for sin offerings, whether they are from the community or the priest himself, whether it was an intentional act or an unintentional act.  Regardless, the priest has to literally get his hands dirty for these kinds of offerings.  He must dip a finger into the bowl that caught the blood, and not only sprinkle it around the holy space, but also spread some on the horns of the altar.  Picture this – dipping his finger seven times into the bowl, choosing where he will aim, and then carefully place more on the horns of the altar. It takes time and concentration.

Transgressions affect more than just the person guilty of the act.  And those who act within a community from a place of wholeness and fulfillment also have an effect on those around them.  Perhaps the difference between the two, however, gives a hint as to the different ways the priests treat the offerings.  Transgressions get your hands dirty.  To atone for a transgression, you need to be very specific about what you did and whom you harmed.  Time and time again, you need to make sure your regret is known to those who bore the brunt of your actions, whether it’s one person or the entire community.  There may be unintended consequences of your actions, too; the priest’s actions are a combination of sprinkling and spreading – specifically directed and unpredictable effects.

For offerings of well being, the priest must only dash the blood.  Dashing  is a much more random way of spreading something around.  You can’t aim it, or predict its pattern.   One who is fulfilled, complete, and at peace has an effect on his/her space in ways that can’t be predicted.  One who is at peace spreads that wholeness in wholly unpredictable ways.   The entire community is affected, like ripples in a pond, well beyond the initial acts.

We will all transgress and we can all aspire to act from wholeness.  Both affect those around us.   As we move through the intricacies of Leviticus, the holiness and the rituals,  we can keep in mind the kinds of impact our actions have on the community.  Rashi says the peace offerings can spread peace throughout the world.  So can the ones who brings them.

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One Response to Vayikra: Dash or sprinkle?

  1. Iryna says:

    Thank you for a nice article.

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