Leviticus begins with God instructing Moses to give the people of Israel instructions. Moses better get used to that, because it's going to happen a lot.
The first set of instructions concerns the burnt offering, which is also known as the whole offering. Why? Because the whole animal goes up in smoke.
Well, except for the skin. The priests get to keep the skin to use as leather for their man-purses and knockoff Prada shoes.
The burnt offering rules don't actually command people to perform burnt offerings. God assumes that people are already bringing burnt offerings—what the Israelites have to learn now is how to do it right.
The Hebrew word in verse 2 for the "man" bringing an animal to sacrifice is kind of weird. It literally says "a human," or adam. Sound familiar? If not, here's a little reminder: it's a callback to God's killing an animal and using its skin to cover the nakedness of the first Adam in chapter 3 of Genesis.
The purpose of the burnt offering is to make an "atonement." What a coincidence—one of the core meanings of the word atonement is a covering.
Note to self: Leviticus likes puns. These aren't the last ones.
In Genesis 3, God cast the first humans far away from his presence. The word "offering" in Leviticus literally means "drawing near" or "approach" (source). Come back to God, peeps.
The animal being offered has to be a male without a blemish. In Leviticus, God hates blemishes with a fiery wrath—yea, verily. To be fair to God here, the Hebrew word that is translated as blemish often refers to an injury.
Long before Bon Jovi sang "Lay Your Hands on Me," the people of Israel were laying hands on animals being presented as offerings of atonement.
Leviticus has a lot of rules about putting things in order, starting right away in chapter one. Stand over there, arrange the wood, wash various animal parts, remove the fat and blood—God at a sacrifice is a lot like a type-A dad at a BBQ.
Another thing that God starts giving directions about is, well, direction. The burnt offering takes place on the north side of the altar. That's another way of saying the left-hand side—the Tabernacle runs west-to-east, and the people of Israel are facing the entrance and looking east.
If someone can't afford to offer cattle, they can sacrifice a goat. Can't afford a goat? Then bring a couple of birds.
But what if you have so many rabbinical student loans that even birds are a bit of a stretch? And what about vegetarians?