The Weekly Parsha: A New Dimension

by Rabbi Heshy Grossman

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I recall a discussion with an acquaintance of mine, who though not fully observant, was traditional in outlook, and very respectful of Torah and Mitzvos.

"Look here", he said, "I truly understand the need for many of the commandments, but, how can you explain these bizarre rituals of animal sacrifice?"

My friend is not the only one who has difficulty relating to the concept of Korbanos. In our shiur this week, we will try to explain the rationale behind the Temple service, demonstrating its eternal relevance.


A well-known, and often misunderstood, line of reasoning is the formulation of the Rambam.

"... it is impossible, according to human nature, to abandon, at one time, everything one has been accustomed to....Hashem sent Moshe Rabbeinu to make us a priestly kingdom and holy nation.....and to be dedicated to His service. The well-known custom in the entire world at that time, and the general service that we had been raised with, was the sacrifice of varied animals in the sanctuaries where idols had been established.....therefore, the ....wisdom of G-d was not to obligate us to abandon all these services and to negate them, which would be similar to a prophet coming today and calling to the service of G-d, saying: 'Hashem has commanded you not to pray to Him, nor to fast or cry before Him at times of trouble, rather, your worship should be in thought, with no deed at all.' Therefore, Hashem allowed these types of services, yet transposed them ....from imaginary matters, untrue, towards His exalted Name." (Moreh Nevuchim 3, 32)

A simple reading of the Rambam leaves the impression that Korbanos are not the ideal form of worship but compensation for ancient man's primitive mode of thinking.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Sacrifices were offered by Adam HaRishon and his sons, well before the onset of idolatry, and they are destined to be an integral element of the Temple service in the Messianic Age.

Rather, the Rambam is saying this: the requirement of Korbanos is in response to the evil inclination of man and his natural leaning towards Avoda Zara.

With this, it should be clear why modern man cannot grasp the idea of sacrifices. Mitzvos and their evil counterpart relate to each other as two extremes of a pendulum. In the absence of the urge for idolatry, the corresponding impulse for elevated Divine service is mitigated. As the desire to worship idols is jarring to modern sensibilities, so too, the Avodas Hashem that was its counterweight.

Let us give a general introduction to the need for Divine service.

Man needs action of solid substance in order to concretize moments of emotional highs. Emotions and feelings ultimately evaporate in a blur of evanescent memories. True spirituality is captured only with the accompanying deeds that gives it life.

Certain moments stand out forever in the life of a child.

Searching out the dark corners of his home by candlelight, discovering the Chametz.

Pesach Seder with his Zaidie.

The sound of the Shofar.

Receiving his father's blessing on Erev Yom Kippur.

It has been said that people with childhood memories as these don't reject their parents' teachings when reaching adulthood. These are simple actions, but heavily laden with emotional undertones. Man's very identity is shaped by Mitzvos performed in such a manner.

If we were to take our own Avoda seriously, we would strive to deepen our understanding of Torah in precisely this way, drawing the image of Chazal's teachings in our mind, picturing the spiritual rewards for good and loyal deeds, developing an emotional attachment to Mitzva observance.

Consider this: Upon finding a corpse on the outskirts of town, the elders of the city would take responsibility for his death, breaking the neck of a young calf with the following declaration: " '....our hands did not spill this blood, [nor did our eyes see]'. Would it enter our minds that the elders of Bais Din are murderers? Rather, 'he did not come to our hands only to be sent away without food, nor did we see him but not provide escort'." (Sotah 38b)

The sin in this case, if there was one, is quite subtle, the perpetrators being unaware of any misdeed. Yet, the neck of a calf is violently smashed with a hatchet, as atonement for an innocent death. Isn't this a bit severe?

This is the point: An extreme illustration drives a concept home, facilitating careful and considered reflection of any possible guilt. Chazal express themselves in the same manner, pointedly describing sin in graphic terms, leading the contemplatative man to think once more. As this: "Whoever forgets one word of his learning, is considered by the Torah as guilty with his life" or "Those who get angry are as worshippers of idolatry".

This is not hyperbole, nor descriptive language, but stark expressions of the vileness of sin.

Korbanos then, are a method of granting shape and substance to man's hidden inclinations, the subtle wish for proximity to G-d. It is the materialization of this desire that enables man to serve His Creator, negating the urge for idolatry.

Let us now explain why these feelings have been lost, and man no longer sees any need to sacrifice himself at G-d's altar.


Our ancestors prayed that they be freed from the urge for Avoda Zara.

"They fasted for three days and three nights, and it was given over to them. Out of the Kodesh HaKodashim came a lion of fire. The prophet said to Israel: 'This is the Yetzer for Avodas Kochavim'." (Yoma 69b)

Why is this Yetzer HaRa recognized only by a Navi? How is it that it emerges from the Holy of Holies? Can the Bais HaMikdash be sanctuary for evil?

The demise of idolatry in the world correlates to the end of prophecy. This is no coincidence. An ability to relate to G-d on an elevated level prods man to search for closeness to Hashem, but there is no guarantee that his effort will bear fruit. A slight distortion can corrupt his service, resulting in an Avoda that is 'Zara', foreign to the precise requirements of the Bais HaMikdash.

This is a crucial point. Man may intend to serve the right G-d, but if his deeds are slightly off-line he invalidates all his work. Though he believes that he is a servant of G-d, he may actually be furthering the cause of evil.

Indeed, at times it is the very Mitzva he performs that makes him all the more dangerous. His good deeds lead to complacency, at times concealing the evil that needs repair. Rather than focusing on a complete overhaul, he satisfies his conscience with partial offerings. In his hesitance to give of himself, he sacrifices only what is easily discarded.

It is for this reason that Hashem rejects the sacrifice of Kayin, who offered only the worst of his produce. It is not the quantity of one's gift that finds favor in G-d's eye, but the submission of self that a true Korban demands.

Commitment to G-d is all or nothing.

To answer our question: The difference between good and evil may be very subtle. Though the protagonist may be unaware, honestly believing himself to be G-d's faithful servant, a Navi might reveal that his service is foreign and unacceptable; Avoda Zara.

He believes that he is a high priest in G-d's Temple, entering the Kodesh HaKodashim, but he is a tool of the Satan, a lion of fire.

In our materialistic world of power and honor, quiet subtleties of spiritual authenticity have been all but lost. The still and silent voice of inner truth cannot be discerned in the chase for fame and fortune.

Today's man doesn't give of himself. He takes whatever he can. Even his Mitzvos are mere photo-ops, a soundbite for the sake of appearance, a cheap ticket to heaven.

Is it really any wonder that we don't understand the subject of Korbanos?

Can we relate to intricate nuance and delicate balance, that which distinguishes Divine service from pagan worship?

We understand a world that looks right and tastes good.

Having lost our grip on the subtle refinement of a pure heart, we have no use for the vivid reminders that the Korban engenders. Rather than basking in the light of revelation, we see only the blood and guts of slaughtered sheep.

We wait for the word of the prophet to reveal once again the Makom HaMikdash, restoring the glory of G-d to His people.

"V'Shavtem U'Re'isem Bein Tzaddik L'Rasha, Bein Oveid Elokim L'Asher Lo Avado"

Any questions or comments? Please address them to grossman

This shiur is now available on the internet at:

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