This Shabbos marks the beginning of our reading the third book of the Torah, Sefer Vayikra which deals primarily with the services and responsibilities of the Kohanim. This week’s portion focuses on many of the korbanos (offerings) to be brought in the newly-constructed Mishkan. Parshas Vayikra begins with G-d calling Moses into the Mishkan where he will receive many relevant mitzvos to be ultimately passed on to the Jewish people. The first half of the Torah portion describes the various optional korbanos brought by individuals. They can be classified into three general categories, each one comprised of several gradations in size and expense; the korban olah (elevation offering) which is completely consumed on the altar; the korban mincha (meal offering) which, because of its inexpensive contents is usually brought by someone of modest means; and the korban shelamim (peace offering) partially burned on the altar, with the remainder divided between the owners and the Kohanim. The second half of the portion (beginning with chapter four) discusses the required chatos (sin) and asham (guilt) offerings to be brought as atonement for unintentional transgressions.
Shabbos HaChodesh (“Sabbath [of the] month” החודש שבת (precedes the first of the Hebrew month of Nisan during which Pesach is celebrated. Exodus 12:1-20 and the laws of Pesach are read as the maftir aliyah, along with a special haftorah. On the first day of Nisan, Hashem presented the first commandment of how to “sanctify the new moon” (kiddush hachodesh) for the onset of Rosh Chodesh and thus Nisan becomes the first month of the Jewish year (counting by months). This special reading helps to prepare us for Pesach.