Vayikra—The Vegetarian Option

When anyone (lit., “when a soul,” nefesh)  presents a grain offering (mincha) to the LORD, the offering shall be of wheat flour.  Lev 2:1

There are so many animal sacrifices in Leviticus that it is easy to forget that for this strand of the Torah (the Priestly source) the original human diet was vegetarian (Gen. 1:29).  In contemplating this week’s parsha, I was drawn to this vegetarian (in fact, vegan) option among the offerings.    Wheat (along with barley) was the backbone of the average Israelite diet in the Iron Age.  In presenting mincha, one makes an offering from “the staff of life,” one’s most basic support.

The modern translations are doubtless correct in regarding “soul” in this verse as simply referring to an individual, and hence translating “anyone,” or “a person” here.   That did not prevent the ancient interpreters from being struck by the fact that the mincha was the only offering said to be brought by the “soul.”  In the Talmud, Rabbi Yitzhak ponders, “Why is the mincha distinct in that the expression soul is used in its case?  Because the Holy One said, ‘Whose habit is it to bring a meal offering?  It is the poor man’s*.  I consider it as if he had offered his very soul to me.'”

*The grain offering is the only offering incumbent upon the poor

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One Comment to “Vayikra—The Vegetarian Option”

  1. Oh, this is brilliant – thank you – -g-

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