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The Eleven Sacrifices of the Rabbis
The Rabbis, who are very fond of subtle distinctions, also speak of public sacrifices that resembled the private, and of private sacrifices that resembled the public, in that they also 'made void the Sabbath and defilement.' Altogether they enumerate eleven public sacrifices, viz. the daily sacrifices; the additional for the Sabbath; for the New Moon; the Passover sacrifices; the lamb when the sheaf was waved; the Pentecostal sacrifices; those brought with the two first loaves; New Year's; Atonement Day sacrifices; those on the first day of, and those on the octave of 'Tabernacles.' Private sacrifices they classify as those on account of sins by word or deed; those on account of what concerned the body (such as various defilements); those on account of property (firstlings, tithes); those on account of festive seasons; and those on account of vows or promises. Yet another division of sacrifices was into those due, or prescribed, and those voluntary. For the latter nothing could be used that had previously been vowed, since it would already belong unto God.
Holy and Less Holy
But of far greater importance is the arrangement of sacrifices into the most holy and the less holy, which is founded on Scripture (Lev 6:17; 7:1; 14:13). Certain meat-offerings (Lev 2:3,10; 6:17; 10:12), and all burnt-, sin-, and trespass-sacrifices, as well as all public peace-offerings, were most holy. Such were to be offered or sacrificed in one of the more holy places; they were slain at the north side of the altar * (the less holy at the east or south side); and they were either not partaken of at all, or else only by the officiating priests, and within the court of the Temple.
* The reason of this is obscure. Was it that the north was regarded as the symbolical region of cold and darkness? Or was it because during the wilderness-journey the Most Holy Place probably faced north--towards Palestine?
The skins of the most holy sacrifices, except such as were wholly burnt, belonged to the priests; those of the less holy to the offerers. In the latter case they also partook of their flesh, the only exception being the firstlings, which were eaten by the priests alone. The Rabbis attach ten comparative degrees of sanctity to sacrifices; and it is interesting to mark that of these the first belonged to the blood of the sin-offering; the second to the burnt- offering; the third to the sin-offering itself; and the fourth to the trespass-offering. Lastly, all sacrifices had to be brought before actual sunset, although the unconsumed flesh might smoulder on the altar till next dawn.
The Acts of Sacrifice
The Rabbis mention the following five acts as belonging to the offerer of a sacrifice: the laying on of hands, slaying, skinning, cutting up, and washing the inwards. These other five were strictly priestly functions: catching up the blood, sprinkling it, lighting the altar fire, laying on the wood, bringing up the pieces, and all else done at the altar itself.
The whole service must have been exceedingly solemn. Having first been duly purified, a man brought his sacrifice himself 'before the Lord'--anciently, to 'the door of the Tabernacle' (Lev 1:3; 4:4), where the altar of burnt-offering was (Exo 40:6), and in the Temple into the Great Court. If the sacrifice was most holy, he entered by the northern; if less holy, by the southern gate. Next he placed it so as to face the west, or the Most Holy Place, in order thus literally to bring it before the Lord. To this the apostle refers when, in Romans 12:1, he beseecheth us to present our 'bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.'
Laying on of Hands
But this was only the commencement of the service. Women might bring their sacrifices into the Great Court; but they might not perform the second rite--that of laying on of hands. This meant transmission and delegation, and implied representation; so that it really pointed to the substitution of the sacrifice for the sacrificer. Hence it was always accompanied by confession of sin and prayer. It was thus done. The sacrifice was so turned that the person confessing looked towards the west, while he laid his hands between the horns of the sacrifice, * and if the sacrifice was brought by more than one, each had to lay on his hands.
* If the offerer stood outside the Court of the Priests, on the topmost of the fifteen Levitical steps, or within the gate of Nicanor, his hands at least must be within the Great Court, or the rite was not valid.
It is not quite a settled point whether one or both hands were laid on; but all are agreed that it was to be done 'with one's whole force'--as it were, to lay one's whole weight upon the substitute. *
If a person under vow had died, his heir-at-law took his place. The only public sacrifices in which hands were laid on were those for sins of public ignorance (Lev 4:15; 16:21), when the 'elders' acted as representing the people--to which some Rabbinical authorities add public sin-offerings in general (on the ground of 2 Chron 29:23)--and the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, on which the high-priest laid his hands. In all private sacrifices, except firstlings, tithes, and the Passover lamb, hands were laid on, and, while doing so, the following prayer was repeated: 'I entreat, O Jehovah: I have sinned, I have done perversely, I have rebelled, I have committed (naming the sin, trespass, or, in case of a burnt- offering, the breach of positive or negative command); but I return in repentance, and let this be for my atonement (covering).' According to Maimonides, in peace-offerings a record of God's praise, rather than a confession of sins, was spoken. But, as the principle prevailed that frequent confession even without sacrifice was meritorious, another formula is also recorded, in which the allusion to sacrifices is omitted.
Closely connected with this was 'the lifting and waving' of certain sacrifices. The priest put his hands under those of the offerer, and moved the sacrifice upwards and downwards, right and left; according to Abarbanel also 'forwards and backwards.' The lamb of the leper's trespass-offering was waved before it was slain (Lev 14:24); private peace-offerings, only after they had been slain; while in public peace-offerings, the practice varied.
Sacrifices Slain by Priests Only
* The Hebrew term used for sacrificial slaying is never applied to the ordinary killing of animals.
For the death of the sacrifice was only a means towards an end, that end being the shedding and sprinkling of the blood, by which the atonement was really made. The Rabbis mention a variety of rules observed by the priest who caught up the blood--all designed to make the best provision for its proper sprinkling. *
* The Rabbis mention five mistakes which might render a sacrifice invalid, none of them the least interesting, except, perhaps, that the gullet might never be wholly severed.
Thus the priest was to catch up the blood in a silver vessel pointed at the bottom, so that it could not be put down, and to keep it constantly stirred, to preserve the fluidity of the blood. In the sacrifice of the red heifer, however, the priest caught the blood directly in his left hand, and sprinkled it with his right towards the Holy Place: while in that of the leper one of the two priests received the blood in the vessel; the other in his hand, from which he anointed the purified leper (Lev 4:25).
The Application of the Blood
According to the difference of sacrifices, the blood was differently applied, and in different places. In all burnt-, trespass-, and peace-offerings the blood was thrown directly out of the vessel or vessels in which it had been caught, the priest going first to one corner of the altar and then to the other, and throwing it in the form of the Greek Letter gamma, so that each time two sides of the altar were covered. Any blood left after these two 'gifts,' as they were called (which stood for four), was poured out at the base of the altar, whence it flowed into the Kedron. In all sin- offerings the blood was not thrown, but sprinkled, the priest dipping the forefinger of his right hand into the blood, and then sprinkling it from his finger by a motion of the thumb. According to the importance of the sin-offering, the blood was so applied either to the four horns of the altar of burnt-offering, or else it was brought into the Holy Place itself, and sprinkled first seven times towards the veil of the Most Holy Place (Lev 4:6,17), and then on the four horns of the golden altar of incense, beginning at the north-east. Finally, on the Day of Atonement the blood was sprinkled within the Most Holy Place itself. From all sin-offerings the blood of which was sprinkled on the horns of the altar of burnt-offering certain portions were to be eaten, while those whose blood was brought into the Holy Place itself were wholly burnt. But in the sacrifices of firstlings, of tithes of animals, and of the Passover lamb, the blood was neither thrown nor sprinkled, and only poured out at the base of the altar.