Parshat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26)
Parashat Vayikra is completely devoted to the various types of offerings any individual may bring to the Temple. They may either be voluntary or a fulfillment of a commandment from the Torah, with the aim of atoning for some type of sin. When people in the modern age encounter the world of sacrifices, the experience is complex, difficult, and nearly traumatic. It’s not that we’re all vegetarians (case in point – the barbecues popping up everywhere in Israel on election day demonstrate that we are not), but because many of us consider it odd that degenerate or corrupt behavior can be atoned for by sacrificing a cow or a sheep on an altar.
Others find it puzzling that Hashem would need sizzling meat on an altar to feel that we love or revere Him, or voice various claims and arguments which express a complete disaffection from the rituals in the Temple and the Altar.
Some commentators have noted that the world of sacrifices represented an attempt to bring the Jewish people closer to the Torah at a time when they were engrossed in idol-worship. The way to do this was through activities with which they were already familiar, resembling the rites of idol-worship, to which they were so attached.
With this in mind, we could postulate that the sacrificial system was introduced as a de facto measure, because it was the only available course of action. According to this view, the Pascal Lamb of Passover, for example, is not an ideal to which we aspire. Rather, it is meant to draw the nation out of idol-worship, and into the worship of the God of Israel. The sacrifice of a sheep, which was revered as a deity in Egypt, was meant to signal a change in the form of the worshipped divinity, but not in the rites themselves.
This explanation is problematic for two reasons. First, it is difficult to believe that the sacrifice of the Pascal Lamb could ever have been of such significant value if it was nothing but some kind of concession to the culture of idol-worship prevalent in those days. Secondly, we have already seen in the Torah the examples of Kayin, Hevel and Noach, who each offered up sacrifices. In those days, there were no deities or idol-worshippers, yet the Torah praises the act of sacrifice.
Therefore, it may be worthwhile to contemplate the roots of the words “korban” [sacrifice] and “hakravah”, which come from the Hebrew root K-R-V, nearness and proximity, may allow us to explore the obscure world of sacrifices a bit.
People want to understand themselves and they want to learn about their roots. They try to give some meaning to their lives and to the major activities in which they are involved. Once they encounter what they consider to be the very purpose of their existence, they want to express, in various ways, their closeness to whatever they feel is truly important. Any mother or father knows that the embracing of a child who has just returned from the army base or from a trip abroad is far more than just a technical action.
That embrace encapsulates tremendous energies tied to love, longing, and missing a loved one during his or her absence. When Hevel and Kayin offered their gift offerings, they were essentially expressing a profound passion they felt for an Entity that could not be seen, though it was very present and tangible in their lives.
This is the world of the faithful, who feel a limitless bond with a living God who lives within us, and is part of our reality. Clearly, these faithful individuals want to infuse expression and meaning into this bond. A sacrifice [korban, from the root K-R-V, nearness] is a tool used to express this feeling of proximity and expressing one central idea – the extent to which Hashem is present in our lives and in our consciousness. Hashem doesn’t need our sacrifices. We simply want to feel very close to Him. We want to love and feel loved.
A sacrifice is a tool used in order to help them feel that proximity. When we were on the verge of leaving Egypt, as in any other time in our history, a question arose: Did we really want to be closer to our Creator? If so, we would need to make an offering that would serve as the most clear-cut evidence that we were still faithful to our God and our nation. Belonging to the world of sacrifice is akin to belonging to a world of love, in which feeling close to God is the ultimate goal.
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