Don Isaac Abravanel, sometimes spelled Abarbanel (1437-1508) was a probing and penetrating Jewish thinker, as well as a prolific
Biblical commentator. Leviticus 4 covers the subject of sin offerings in the Tabernacle. Here, Abravanel
transports Bible students beyond textual explanation, pivoting into theology. We shall explain.

“And God spoke to Moses saying, speak unto the Children of Israel
saying. If any one shall sin through error, in any of the things which God
commanded not to be done, and shall do any one of them…”

The Torah portion of Vayikra, successively, covers burnt offerings (chapter 1), meal offerings (chapter 2),
and peace offerings (chapter 3). Vayikra’s two concluding chapters (4 and 5) pertain to sin and guilt
offerings respectively.

What, Abravanel questions, can we learn from the sequence of these five chapters? To the point, why
does the Torah begin with voluntary sacrifices (burnt, meal, and peace offerings) before moving onto
obligatory sacrifices (sin and guilt)?

Abravanel supplies an answer that goes to the heart of Judaism’s understanding of God: He is
benevolent. Unequivocally, the Creator seeks the good and positive – traits associated with those
sacrifices that are brought out of good will and love. Those characteristics are common to burnt, meal,
and peace offerings. Love of the Maker motivated people to bring them, as they are not obligatory.

On the other hand, Hebrews brought sin and guilt offerings in order to rectify untoward conduct. Thus,
they were obligatory, and underscored serving God out of fear or angst.

For Abravanel, a pattern emerges that highlights God’s inner nature, one that desires people to behave
and serve Him out of affection, not anxiety. In this way, when the Torah launches sections pertaining to
blessing or curse, the section of blessing precedes that of curse. Sequence illustrates God as kind.

Jewish prophets, too, recognized this fundamentally favorable aspect of God, underscoring God’s love.
Hence, when the prophets spoke of sacrifices, they stressed burnt offerings – exclusively. King David in
Psalms put it this way: “Then will You delight in the sacrifices of righteousness, in burnt offering…” The
Creator equates righteousness with burnt offerings, and not sin offerings that bespeak man’s baseness.

Abravanel brings a second proof from Scripture, this one from the prophet Isaiah. “Even them will I bring
to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their
sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar…”

How the Maker deeply desires that man will not succumb to immorality, instead clinging only to good
and bringing sacrifices of love to His altar!