Parshas VaYikra – Melikah

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At the beginning of this week’s Parsha we learn the basic Halachos of Korbanos. Every Korban from a living being begins with the taking of the Korban’s life. But there is a difference between animals and birds. Whereas animals are Shechted with all the attendant Halachos that are similar to regular Shchita, the Korbanos of birds are done completely differently. They begin with Melikah. This is described as one of the most difficult actions done in the Bais HaMikdosh[1]. The Kohen must take the bird in one hand, and using his own thumbnail, pierce it from the back of the neck. Outside the Bais HaMikdosh this type of Shechita would render the bird unfit to be eaten, but in the Bais HaMikdosh, this is the only way bring a bird as a Korban, and is the parallel to Shechita.

There is one other difference to point out, which is that Melikah can only be performed by a Kohen, whereas in animals it is the opposite. The Mitzvoth of the Kohen only begins after the Shechita[2]. This Halacha was the source of a fascinating incident in Navi.

When Chana is yet childless, she goes to the Mishkan in Shilo to daven. Eli the Kohen Gadol at the time, mistakes her fervent Tefilah for drunkenness, and chastises her. When she points out his mistake he blesses her that her Tefilos should be answered. When Shmuel is born, Chana dedicates him to the Bais HaMikdosh. At the age of two she brings him to Shiloh. Shmuel hears the people searching for a Kohen to Shecht a Korban. With his special level of development in Ruchniyos (to call him precocious is too simple), he points out that based on the order of the Pesukim in VaYikra, we do not require a Kohen till after the Shechita. Everyone is very impressed, but Eli says that Shmuel is to be punished by death for Paskening in front of the Gadol HaDor[3]. (The issue of how someone under the age of Bar Mitzvah can be held responsible is out of our purview for now.) Chana beseeches Eli for mercy and Shmuel’s life is spared, so he can be the one to lead the Jewish people and establish both Malchus and the foundations of the Bais HaMikdosh.

In the Likutei Yehudah he brings a Zohar[4] that explains that a Kohen is not only not necessary for Shechita, but is not permitted to Shecht. Kohanim as descendants of Aharon are the representatives of the Midah of Shalom. Therefore, they cannot be the ones to use instruments of metal to begin the process of the Korban, the Shechita. That part is Din. They can only perform the parts of the Avodah which bring the animal to HaShem, and create Shalom between HaShem and Klal Yisroel. Shmuel decided the Halacha according to the Zohar, and when he saw that they were not just doing something unnecessary in looking for a Kohen, but something incorrect, he had to stop them. That is permitted even in front of the Gadol HaDor, and therefore his life was spared[5]. We can add to this, that Shumel was a Levi. They are from the Midah of Din, so he understood who could and could not Shecht a Korban[6].

That could be a deeper understanding of why Melikah is called a difficult Avodah. Aside from the technicalities, the fact that a Kohen who represents Chesed, has to do an action of Din and kill a bird, is contradictory to his essence. This explains the Halacha by animals why the Kohen does not Shecht them, but just makes the question about Melikah that much more difficult.

The Chizkuni[7] may give us piece to begin to understand this. There is a Halacha that you cannot use metal instruments to build the Mizbeach. The Mizbeach exists to pardon our sins and lengthen our lives, and metal is the instrument of destruction to shorten people’s lives. That is why metal tools cannot build the Mizbeach. The animals are Schechted below the Mizbeach, on the floor of the Bais HaMikdosh. Birds have Melikah done to them which is done on the Mizbeach. It cannot be done with metal since it on the Mizbeach, so it is done with the Kohen’s own hand. A Yisroel cannot do it, since that area is off limits to a Yisroel. But why does it need to be done on the Mizbeach?

The Maskil L’Dovid explains this[8]. A bird is less expensive than an animal. Those who bring Korbanos, would seem to try to bring the most that they could. Therefore, the smaller Korbanos are brought by the poorer parts of Klal Yisroel. But as we know, “One who brings a large amount, and one who brings a small amount are the same if their intentions are for HaShem.” In order to emphasize HaShem’s love for their devoted Korbanos, HaShem has the birds brought on the Mizbeach, and requiring that the Kohen himself be the instrument to bring the Korban.

When one brings an animal there is a certain feeling of loss of such a large monetary value, but we overcome it as it is Shechted. But the complete devotion of the pauper who uses his small amount of money to bring it gladly to HaShem such a loss is not Din but Chesesd, and therefore a Kohen can perform this on the Mizbeach.

The Radvaz (the Rebbe of the Arizal’s Rebbe in revealed aspects of the Torah) in his Sefer Metzudat Dovid (an explanation of the reasons for the Mitzvoth in a Kabalistic manner from the generations before the Arizal) delves into this matter in Mitzva three hundred and fifty-three. He discusses the idea of Gilgul, but I would like to put it in a different set of words.

Birds in general represent a connection to Heaven. They are created before the animals, and in general the closer the creation is to the first day, the more spiritual is the creation. Birds represent the spiritual state of man that can rise up to heaven as we were created to do. But since the sin of Adam and Eve, every human has a small amount of that sin them. As Dovid says in Tehilim[9], “I was created in sin, and my mother had me in sin.” Every person, even those who do not perform any sins of their own, need to remove that physical part of the sin from their bodies. A person who only needs to remove that level of sin and no other is compared to a bird. They can soar, but are held back only by the sin of Adam. Such a person brings a Korban of a Bird, to rrepresent himself, and remove this last remaining slight imperfection. That is why they are not slaughtered below the Mizbeach by an instrument of destruction, like the less spiritual animals. They are brought on to the Mizbeach itself, and their death is by the hands of the Kohen, the embodiment of Chesed. This is the greatest Chesed to cleanse them of that slight imperfection and allow them to reach the greatest heights.

This is potentially a small piece of the explanation of a Halacha that requires much thought to understand the words of the Holy Torah.

1מצודת דוד


[1]  זבחים דף סד/ב –  אמר רב זוטרא בר טוביה אמר רב כיצד מולקין חטאת העוף אוחז גפיו בשתי אצבעות ושתי רגלים בשתי אצבעות ומותח צוארה על רוחב גודלו ומולקה במתניתא תנא ציפרא מלבר אוחז גפיו בשתי אצבעות ושני רגלים בשתי אצבעות ומותח צוארו על רוחב שתי אצבעותיו ומולק וזו עבודה קשה שבמקדש

[2]  רש”י ויקרא פרק א,ה – ושחט והקריבו הכהנים – מקבלה ואילך מצות כהונה למד על השחיטה שכשירה בזר (זבחים לב):

[3]  ברכות דף לא/ב – אל הנער הזה התפללתי אמר רבי אלעזר שמואל מורה הלכה לפני רבו היה שנאמר וישחטו את הפר ויביאו את הנער אל עלי משום דוישחטו את הפר הביאו הנער אל עלי אלא אמר להן עלי קראו כהן ליתי ולשחוט חזנהו שמואל דהוו מהדרי בתר כהן למישחט אמר להו למה לכו לאהדורי בתר כהן למישחט שחיטה בזר כשרה אייתוהו לקמיה דעלי אמר ליה מנא לך הא אמר ליה מי כתיב ושחט הכהן והקריבו הכהנים כתיב מקבלה ואילך מצות כהונה מכאן לשחיטה שכשרה בזר אמר ליה מימר שפיר קא אמרת מיהו מורה הלכה בפני רבך את וכל המורה הלכה בפני רבו חייב מיתה אתיא חנה וקא צוחה קמיה אני האשה הנצבת עמכה בזה וגו’ אמר לה שבקי לי דאענשיה ובעינא רחמי ויהיב לך רבא מיניה אמרה ליה אל הנער הזה התפללתי:

[4]  זוהר חלק ג דף קכד/א – הכא אית לאסתכלא, הא כתיב (ויקרא א ה) ושחט את בן הבקר, ושחט אחרא ולאו כהנא, דכהנא אסיר ליה בדינא, בגין דלא יפגים ההוא אתר דאחיד ביה

[5]  עירובין דף סג/א – שאני רב אחא בר יעקב דמופלג אמר רבא ולאפרושי מאיסורא אפילו בפניו שפיר דמי רבינא הוה יתיב קמיה דרב אשי חזייה לההוא גברא דקא אסר ליה לחמריה בצינתא בשבתא רמא ביה קלא ולא אשגח ביה אמר ליה ליהוי האי גברא בשמתא אמר ליה כי האי גוונא מי מתחזא כאפקרותא אמר ליה אין חכמה ואין תבונה ואין עצה לנגד ה’ כל מקום שיש בו חילול השם אין חולקין כבוד לרב אמר רבא בפניו אסור וחייב מיתה

[6]  זוהר חלק ג דף שג/א – תוספת – אזי הכהן שהוא החסד העליון מניף אותו הצר של הלוים שהיא מדת הגבורה

[7]  חזקוני על ויקרא פרק א פסוק טו – ומלק – בעצמו של כהן לפי שהוא בראשו של מזבח אבל לא בסכין כדכתיב כי חרבך הנפת עליה ותחללה. ומה מליקה האמורה להלן ממול עורף אף כאן ממול עורף.

[8]  משכיל לדוד על ויקרא פרק ו פסוק ח – בקמצו שלא יעשה וכו’. גם מזה אנו למדין כמה מחבב הקדוש ברוך הוא קרבן עני שהרי קמיצה במנחה היא במקום שחיטה בזבח והשחיטה היא ע”י כלי אבל קמיצת המנחה וכן המליקה בעוף צריך בעצמו של כהן להורות תוספ’ חביבות:

[9]  תהילים פרק נא – (ז) הֵן בְּעָווֹן חוֹלָלְתִּי וּבְחֵטְא יֶחֱמַתְנִי אִמִּי:


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