The Offerings of the Messianic Age

Introduction: The emergence of the Messiah, a descendant of David, will inaugurate a new age of universal enlightenment and "shalom" harmony, wholeness, and peace (Isaiah 11:1-10). In this new age, there will also be an ingathering of all the exiles of Israel who will return to Zion (Isaiah 11:11-13). In addition, Jerusalem and the rebuilt Temple will become a spiritual center for all humankind (Isaiah 2:1-4), for the People of Israel will develop a model society which will serve as a light for all the peoples (Isaiah 60:1-3). Maimonides explains that we do not know the exact order and the precise details of how the messianic redemption will unfold. In his classical work, the Mishneh Torah, he writes:

"All these and similar matters a person cannot know how they will happen until they happen, for these matters are undefined in the words of the prophets; moreover, even the sages have no established tradition regarding these matters, but only their interpretations of the verses. There is therefore disagreement among them concerning these matters. Nevertheless, neither the order of the occurrence of these events nor their precise details are among the fundamental principles of the faith." (The Laws of Kings, 12:2)

After the Messianic Age - following the resurrection of the dead - there will be an age of increased enlightenment on earth known as "Olam Haba" The World to Come. (In Jewish tradition, the term Olam Haba has a double meaning: It refers to the blissful world that the soul enters after departing the body, and it also refers to the new age on earth after the resurrection when the soul will be reunited with the body.) The exact details of Olam Haba on earth were not publicly revealed to us through our prophets; however, the Ramban records some of the teachings from our mystical tradition regarding this age. In his work, Toras HaAdam (Shaar HaGemul), the Ramban describes how the physical body of the human being will become very spiritual in nature during this age, and instead of eating plants and meat, the human being will derive nourishment from "food" of a more spiritual nature. (At a later stage, we will discuss the diet of the preceding Messianic Age.)

Dear Friends,

We will begin our discussion with the following Divine promise of Hashem - the Compassionate One concerning the messianic age:

"I will bring them to My Holy Mountain, and I will gladden them in My House of Prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for My House will be called a House of Prayer for all the peoples." (Isaiah 56:7 - from a passage which is chanted on fast days)

The main components of the elevation offerings and the feast offerings are animals; thus, the above verse indicates that animal offerings will be part of the Temple service in the messianic age. In addition, the last nine chapters of the Book of Ezekiel describe the Temple of the future, and according to Rashi and some other commentators, these chapters are referring to the Temple of the Messianic age. Within these chapters, one finds a detailed description of the animal offerings of the future Temple. Maimonides therefore writes that in the messianic age, the Temple will be rebuilt and we will once again bring the offerings "according to all the particulars mentioned in the Torah" (Hilchos Melachim 11:1).

This is why the traditional prayers which we chant on the Sabbath and Festivals have a request for the renewal of the Sabbath and Festival offerings, and these prayers specifically mention the animal offerings for each holy day. For example, the Torah tells us that we are to bring a total of seventy bulls as offerings during the seven days of the Festival of Succos (Numbers 29:12-34). The Talmud explains that these offerings are on behalf of the seventy primary nations of the world (Succos 55b). Succos is one of the three pilgrimage festivals when the people of Israel would go up to the Temple in Jerusalem. We can therefore imagine that these seventy offerings on behalf of the seventy nations - which were accompanied by the singing of the Levites and instrumental music - must have been a source of great inspiration for our entire people. We therefore pray in the Musaf Shemoneh Esrei prayer of the Festival of Succos that we merit to once again bring these seventy animal offerings and other related offerings.

There is, however, a fascinating Midrash which limits the amount of animal offerings which will be brought in the messianic age:

"Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Levi, and Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Menachem of Gallia: In the future that is destined to come, all offerings will be abolished, with the exception of the thanksgiving offering." (Leviticus Rabbah 9:7 and 27:12).

Rabbi David Sears cites the above Midrash in his book, "The Vision of Eden" (p. 315), and in his notes, he includes the following information: "The thanksgiving offering consisted of 10 leavened breads, 10 small unleavened loaves, 10 small unleavened wafers, 10 small scaled loaves, and one sheep, goat, or cow less than three years old." According to a noted commentary on the Midrash, Yefeh Toar, the above Midrash is discussing offerings brought by individuals. This Midrash is revealing that the sin offerings which individuals bring will not be needed during the messianic age of spiritual enlightenment when sin will be eliminated, and the only offerings that individuals will bring in this future age are the thanksgiving offerings; however, the communal daily offerings, as well as the communal Sabbath and Festival offerings, will also be brought during the messianic age.

There is a fascinating interpretation of the above Midrash by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, a leading sage of the early 20th century, based on the following messianic prophecy: "Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Hashem as in the days of old and in previous years" (Malachi 3:4). The Hebrew term for "offering" in this verse is "mincha" - a term which usually refers to the flour offering. Rabbi Kook writes:

"Animals achieve tikkun (a spiritual fixing and elevation) by rising to be an offering on the altar to Hashem. Since they do not possess da'as (human wisdom), they are spiritually elevated only by the offer of their blood and fat the repository of their soul to Hashem. The human being, on the other hand, comes closer to Hashem through the wisdom of his heart, which gives meaning to the act of the offering. In the future, however, the flow of wisdom will spread and reach even the animals for, 'They will neither injure nor destroy in all My sacred mountain, for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed' (Isaiah 11:9). The offering at that time will be the meal offering from the realm of vegetation, and it will be pleasing unto Hashem as in days of old." (Olas Rayah 1, 292)

The above teaching seems to indicate that the animals will achieve a higher level during the messianic age; thus, they will no longer need to become an offering in order to achieve their tikkun. This conclusion, however, raises a challenging question, for as we explained above, the prophets speak about the renewal of the animal offerings in the messianic age. In addition, Maimonides, the great authority on Torah law, wrote that animal offerings will be renewed in the messianic age. In fact, Rav Kook prayed with great fervor all the traditional prayers for the renewal of these offerings! I therefore asked a friend of mine to consult with his teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Israel Tau, a noted expert on the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, and who heads the Har HaMor yeshiva in Jerusalem. At my request, my friend asked Rabbi Tau to resolve this difficulty, and this is what he replied: There will be two stages within the messianic age, and Rav Kook taught that in the first stage, the animal offerings will be renewed, but in the second stage, approaching the World to Come, the offerings will be vegetarian. The thanksgiving offering during the first stage will include the animal and various loaves, but in the second stage, the thanksgiving offering will just include the loaves.

In order to better understand the idea that animals will be on a higher level in the messianic age, we need to cite the following verses from the prophecy that Rabbi Kook referred to:

"The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp and a fatling together, and a young child will lead them. A cow and bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay. A suckling will play by a viper's hole; and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder's lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One as water covering the sea bed." (Isaiah 11:6-9)

These verses remind us that the goal of the messianic age is to return to the universal shalom of the Garden of Eden, a theme which we shall further explore at a later stage of this series.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:

1. The teachings which we have cited within the recent letters on the Temple and the offerings are meant to lead to further discussion and study, especially since there are many other teachings regarding the role and purpose of the offerings. For example, the Ramban discusses kabbalistic insights as to how the offerings help to bring blessings to the entire world (Commentary to Genesis 2:8). And there are also teachings which indicate that even without the Temple, we have other means of atonement, such as deeds of lovingkindness (Avos D'Rabbi Nosson 1:4), and eating in a holy way (Brochos 55a).

2. As we discussed, the Hebrew word for offering is korban a word which connotes closeness and unity. Through the korban, we come closer to the One Creator Who is the Source of all unity. If we dedicate all the talents and resources that the Creator gave us to serving the Divine purpose - to further and safeguard the creation (Genesis 2:15) - then each of our deeds can become a korban.

3. Rabbi Zev Leff, a noted Torah scholar in Israel, has a different interpretation of Rabbi Kook's teaching regarding the offerings in the messianic age. Rabbi Leff's oral explanation can be found in the question and answer section on his website. Press down on "Q&A" and then write "vegetarian" on the search line. This issue is discussed in question #1047. The website address is:

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