Offerings to God: The Ancient Hebrew Cult of Sacrifice (Part 2)

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The second sacrifice is the Meal Offering. This is an offering of fine flour mixed with oil and frankincense. The offeror brings this to the Priest who scoops out threefingersful and burns it on the Altar. All of the offering is presented to God, but He only consumes part of it, the token portion which the Priest turns “into smoke on the altar, as an offering by fire, of pleasing odor to the Lord.” God then gives the remainder of the offering to the Priest. God tells Moses that Meal Offerings must not include any leaven, but they must always include salt.

This is a sacrifice relating to the sins of the Mind. The Hebrew word for this offering, minhah, means ‘Tribute’: that is, a gift made in acknowledgment of the receiver’s superiority. The initiate at this level has now given up the ego’s pride and vanity, has conquered doubt, and has turned the Mind upward to seek guidance from a higher divine level. He or she now takes ‘fine flour’ (a symbol of the Earth), anoints it with oil (the fuel of Fire, a symbol of the Divine Spirit entering the body), adds some frankincense (a luxuriant spice which, fittingly, much like the Initiate, gives off no excellent aroma at all until it comes into contact with the ‘Fire’), seasons the mixture with salt (a preservative, indestructible, and thus a symbol of eternity), and offers this as a minhah, a Tribute, to God.

No leaven may be added to any offering to God. When leaven enters bread it ‘puffs it up’. This ‘puffing up’ is a symbol of pride and hypocrisy, which ‘puffs up’ our ego and fills the material consciousness with delusions of self-importance.

The third form of sacrifice is called the Peace Offering, or Sacrifice of Well-Being. (The Hebrew word, shelamim, is derived from shalom, i.e., peace). Much like the Burnt Offering, the offeror brings a perfect animal from among the cattle, sheep or goats, lays his or her hands upon it, and then slaughters it. The Priest then dashes the blood on all sides of the Altar.

But this offering is not completely turned into smoke. The Priest takes the fat of the animal and burns it on the Altar: the God of Israel, like Zeus, considered the fat of the animal (like the ‘fat of the land’) to be the choicest part, and the initiate devotes what is best in the sacrifice, and in oneself, to the Lord. The meat, however, is shared. God bequeaths the breast and the right thigh to the Priests. The rest of the meat is to be eaten by the offeror, with family and friends, as a feast of Thanksgiving. A Peace Offering could be brought to give thanks for recovering from illness, for being rescued from danger, for returning safely from a journey, to fulfill a vow, or simply as a spontaneous act of devotion.

The Israelites lived mostly on milk, cheese, bread and vegetation. The festive meal of a Peace Offering, the most common of the sacrifices, was one of the few times when they would eat meat. Unlike the contemporary practice of selecting a sterile plastic-wrapped steak from the supermarket shelf, the Israelites would take complete responsibility for the sacrifice of the animal’s life, slaughtering it themselves, releasing the soul back to God, and sharing its gift of meat in a sacred ceremony of gratitude and thanksgiving.