Leavening and Honey
The Torah forbade including leavening or honey in any offering: “Any meal-offering that you offer to HaShem shall not be prepared…from any leavening or fruit-honey as a fire-offering to HaShem” (Leviticus 2:12). Why are leavening and honey forbidden from the altar?
Leavening and honey symbolize the two qualities characterizing almost every sin: arrogance and lust. Leavening causes dough to rise and expand, symbolizing the haughty self-importance arrogance can blind us with. Honey symbolizes the sticky, misleading inclinations apt to lead us around by the nose if we are not careful. In distancing leavening and honey from the Mishkan altar, the Torah hinted to us to distance these qualities from our own persons in order to maintain our integrity before the Almighty.
In exploring the motives behind the sin of the first human beings, Adam and Chava (Eve), we discover that both of these elements are at play. The first woman reached out to pluck the fruit of the tree the Almighty had forbidden for the simple reason that she believed what the snake had told her: “…On the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like G-d knowing good and evil” (Genesis 2:5). It wasn’t enough for Adam to live in the Garden of Eden as the pinnacle and apex of the entire creation, Adam wanted his status to rival that of the Almighty Himself. King David put it aptly in begging to be sparred the root of all sin, “Let not the foot of arrogance come to me” (Psalms 36:12).
Another motivation to eat from the one tree in the garden that the Almighty had said to abstain from was misplaced lust. The Torah explains, “And the woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was desirable to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6). Satisfying hungers and desires is healthy in the appropriate context, but thoughtlessly giving in to mindless cravings can destroy lives. Any of the many trees in the garden were welcome to them, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would have been welcome to Adam and Chava in only a matter of hours if they had just abstained until then. Unfortunately, the power of lust convinced them that they had to have it, and that they had to have it now. Consequences were disastrous, to say the least.
The role of the Mishkan offerings and, later, the Beis HaMikdash offerings were to elevate man to connect with his Creator and cleanse him of any sin and guilt. However, offerings would do none of these things were they not accompanied by sincere thoughts of teshuva, the process of regret, confession, and commitment for the future that returns the Jew to his or her former spiritual wellbeing.
The specifications against leavening and honey in offerings hinted to us that our teshuva process must include a focus on eradicating these destructive qualities. Arrogance and lust had to be cleansed from within ourselves before our offering on the altar could cleanse away any ill-effects caused by our sins. In order to renew our relationship with our Creator through our offering, we needed to renew our relationship with ourselves by cultivating an honest, humble self-perception and the integrity to control our behavior in regards to physical lusts and desires.
Although the renewing, cleansing power of offerings is no longer in our hands, distancing ourselves from arrogance and lust can still help us renew our relationship with our Creator today.