The mystical dimension of the firstling of the pure male animals is an allusion to the people of Israel, who have been described by G‑d as His first-born (Ex. 4:22). They are without blemish, a perfect congregation whom G‑d has also called "sheep of My pasture"(Ezekiel 34:31). This is why they [these unblemished sheep] may only be eaten by the priests.

When such firstlings have become blemished and been redeemed, they may be eaten by ordinary Israelites. The deeper reason for this is because the Israelites themselves also possess some degree of sanctity, for they have been called "Adam". Adam used to be holy and would have remained holy had he not sinned. This firstling animal was also holy until it contracted a blemish, the equivalent of sin. Just as sinful man can redeem himself, as we know from the verse "I give men in exchange for you"(Isaiah 43:4), so can this animal be redeemed. This is the mystical dimension of the "scapegoat", which carries our sins. The Torah (Lev. 16:22) speaks of the he-goat of the azazel, which atones for the sins of a firstling animal contracting a blemish.

Death, in our case, simply means trading a temporary home for a permanent one….

On the other hand, we are forbidden to inflict a blemish on the firstborn in order to be able to consume it (after redemption). It is quite obvious that one must not benefit from such an action. It is also forbidden to use animals consecrated as an offering for any mundane task or to use their hair after it has been shorn. The reason for this is easy to understand when one considers that the tablets which Moses had shattered also retained their sanctity.

The general rule we can derive from all that we have said so far is that the "inner", i.e. most sublime, sacrifice is Adam. This explains our tradition that after death, the archangel Michael (acting as High Priest) offers up our souls on the Celestial Altar. (Chagigah 12) This is all part of the great mystery of man having been created in the image of G‑d.

In view of all these considerations, we can understand the Torah's repeated warnings regarding how careful we must be not to take human life before the most exhaustive interrogations of the witnesses and before a thorough examination of all the circumstances surrounding the accusation leveled against someone accused of a capital crime. When an execution is ordered after all these precautions not to commit judicial murder have been taken, such a death of the accused may be viewed as death at the hands of Heaven. Just as G‑d is a true witness and a true judge, so the members of the Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, must be as clear about the guilt of the accused before they convict him as G‑d is clear in His mind about the guilt of people whose life He revokes. Once these procedures have been followed, the verse: "Death is precious to G‑d" (Psalms 116:15) has been fulfilled.

In view of the fact that "death is precious to G‑d" (since the divine soul of the Israelite is fit to be a sacrifice to G‑d only after the expiration of its body), the Torah commands us not to inflict cuts or incisions on our bodies as a sign of mourning for someone who has died. After all, we are "children of the Lord our G‑d", unlike the Canaanites. Those nations are quite right in performing such incisions as signs of mourning; when they lose a near and dear one, he is lost forever, for he, like them, has no share in the World to Come. On the other hand, when an Israelite dies, he joins his Father in Heaven, surely not something to be marked by disfiguring our bodies.

By not having been slaughtered in the most meticulous way, a great injustice may have been done….

Death, in our case, simply means trading a temporary home for a permanent one.

Returning to our main subject, that the person presenting the offering is in fact the real sacrifice (which we derived from the wording of Lev. 1:2), this has an additional mystical dimension: It can happen that man is "sacrificed" even in our world [not only when the soul is sacrificed by the archangel Michael on the Celestial Altar. Ed.]. This happens as a result of the transmigration of souls, as we have explained. It is the reason why we are commanded to slaughter animals even when we consume them as non-consecrated meat. Extreme care has to be taken in the performance of ritual slaughter so that we do not wind up eating non-kosher meat; when this happens, the verse "He committed an outrage in Israel" (Gen. 34:7) would apply. No one knows whose soul the animal in question harbored. By not having been slaughtered in the most meticulous way, a great injustice may have been done. According to the directive "Love your neighbor like yourself", the obligation to kill the animal in such a way that its death elevates it spiritually is included. Should the animal die of natural causes (any cause other than approved ritual slaughter), the spirit of impurity which was contained in that animal will not have been released but will suffuse it. On the other hand, if it is healthy and contains some spark of sanctity and is killed by means of ritual slaughter, the soul will exist in purity.

You will now understand that if someone eats tissue from a living animal (one that is not completely dead) he may possibly be practicing a form of cannibalism, i.e. eating tissue of a fellow human being whose soul was reincarnated in that animal. This is the mystical dimension of the Torah telling us, "Do not eat the soul with the flesh". (Deut. 12:23). The entire legislation about domestic animals, free roaming beasts, or even birds which are "impure" is connected to the possibility that such animals harbor a spark of holiness by being host to a soul which had once inhabited a human body, a soul which had originated in the celestial spheres. It is irrelevant in this respect whether the soul in question originated in the "left" or the "right" side of the sefirot.

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.]