Friday, March 20, 2015

Parsha: Why is Honey Not Allowed in a Karban?

Rav Turetsky

Parshat Vayikrah includes many detailed and seemingly technical halachot relevant to karbanot. However, upon closer examination, many of these halachot highlight and express critically important and fundamental ideas. What follows is one such example.

The Torah (Vayikra 2:11) states that one is not permitted to include leaven (se’or) or honey in a Karban Mincha (meal offering). What is the reason for that prohibition? Indeed, it is especially strange that one is not allowed to offer honey. Shouldn’t the sweetness of the honey be welcome in our Karbanot?

1. Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 2:36) writes that non-Jews used to offer honey in their sacrifices, so we are commanded to avoid it in ours. This is part of Rambam’s general view that the purpose of Karbanot is to distance us from certain pagan forms of sacrificial worship.[1]

2. Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 117) has a relatively lengthy discussion of the reasoning behind this prohibition. At one point, he suggests that we are prohibited to offer honey to remind us to limit our involvement with sweet foods. Food should be used for sustenance and health, not for one’s own personal enjoyment.

3. Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson, author of Shu"t Shoel UMaishiv, offers the following suggestion in his Parsha Sefer Divrei Shaul (Parshat Vayikra). Leaven is very bitter, while honey is exceptionally sweet. The Torah prohibits both of them to highlight Rambam’s well-known directive to avoid extremes.  We are not to offer something with such an extreme form of taste to remind us to avoid extremes in our own lives.[2]

4. The Kotzker Rebbe[3] writes that honey is prohibited to remind us that our Avodat Hashem shouldn’t be, in his wording, too “Heimish.” We are supposed to feel a certain degree of distance from Hashem, to recognize there are limitations on how close we can be to God and to worship Him as such.

What unites many of these approaches is that they offer insights relevant to our Avodat Hashem. We may be unable to offer Karbanot nowadays, but even their detailed halachot may have practical relevance for us and the way we approach Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!

[1] Rambam’s position may be more complex. On this topic, see, for example, Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:46), Ramban (Vayikrah 1:9), Kuzari (2:25-26), and Ohr Gedalyahu (Vayikra pg. 5-6).
[2] Rabbi Lamm discusses this comment in his recently published Drashot to Parshat Vayikrah. He has a very important discussion about the limitations of Rambam’s principle.
[3] See Emet V’Emunah pg. 31 and Emet MiKotzk Tizmach pg. 21.

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