With פרשת ויקרא we start talking about all the gross anatomic details of the קרבנות. In the case of the שלמים, the meat is eaten by the people and the fats are burned on the altar:
But there is something different about the שלמים of a sheep:
The אליה, the tail, of a sheep is burned on the altar, and the Torah emphasizes that this is something different from the other חלב:
What is special about the sheep tail?
And once you start breeding animals for a particular characteristic, it can get pretty extreme:
What is interesting about the אליה is that it is burned on the altar when it is part of a קרבן שלמים, but it isn’t חֵלֵב, part of the forbidden fats that are not kosher. “An important ingredient in many regional cuisines” includes ancient Israel.
Why do I bring this up?
But we would like to see some kind of deeper meaning to this fat tail.
Why should it be offered on the altar? A קרבן שלמים is not a sacrifice; it’s a shared barbecue. If the tail is a delicacy, then we should be allowed to eat it.
Hirsch looks at the symbolism of the חֵלֵב but can’t come up with an answer.
Rabbi Yehoshua Weitzman of Yeshivat Ma’alot has a suggestion, based on the physiological purpose of the fat tail:
Throughout תנ״ך and the Talmud, a lost sheep is a symbol for Israel in exile.
The gemara has מדרש הלכה reasons for three of these four examples, שור, חמור and שמלה. But there is no reason for the שה. The Maharsha says we need it for a מדרש אגדה:
So the אליה symbolizes our stored-up ability to survive in exile, to draw on our past successes even in hard times. And the important thing to realize is that this success comes from הקב״ה.