Torah portion Vayikra begins the Biblical book of the same name (Leviticus in English.) The Torah’s description of different types of korbanot (sacrificial offerings) in parsha Vayikra begins with with freewill offerings – those that are brought voluntarily – and continues with obligatory offerings. This seems counterintuitive. Wouldn’t it make more sense to first explain what offerings the Jewish people are obligated to bring, before enumerating the seemingly less important voluntary offerings?
The order of offerings listed makes sense when we understand why God wants us to make offerings in the first place. The all-powerful Creator of the Universe doesn’t need our burnt sacrifices or anything else from us. He does want something from us: our devotion. The Lubavitcher Rebbe says, “the most crucial aspect of all offerings is that they be offered from a genuine desire to come closer to God.”
Voluntary offerings are brought by one whose “heart’s intent is for the sake of heaven.” They are listed first to teach us the importance of intentionality in bringing sacrifices. We serve God not just out of obligation but out of love. And that love for our Creator must come before all else.
Image: Book of Leviticus Initial-word panel, by scribe Solomon ben Isaac, Germany 14th c.