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Rabbi's Corner

Beshalach – Rabbi Lerner – January 13, 2019

 

The Avodah That Hashem Wants - Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

 

13:17: And it happened when Pharaoh sent out the people that G-d did not lead them by the land of the Pelishtim because it was near, for G-d said, “Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt.” Hashem took Bnai Yisrael out of Mitzrayaim in a circuitous route that ended with the people entering the promised land from the east instead of the south. This detail would seem to be minor, but in fact points to a significant approach by the Rambam that has to do with human nature. The Rambam asks a fundamental question about Korbanos. When we say that Avodah is one of the pillars that sustains the world, what kind of Avodah is Chazal referring to? We show tremendous Avodah to Hashem with Korbanos. A Korban is representation of the Akeidah, where Avraham was tested with this extremely difficult task of sacrificing his son on G-d’s command – it showed his complete subservience to G-d; that is the tremendous symbolism of Korbanos; the animals are used as a substitute, demonstrating our willingness to give up our lives for Hashem. In the Bais Hamikdash there was also Tefilla, but the primary Avodah on the surface was Korbanos, not Tefilla. With the exception of the Rambam, all of the Rishonim say that Korbanos were more important than Tefilla, which was only really instituted for us Derabanan, after the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed and we could no longer bring Korbanos; the Tefillos were set up to fill the void left by the loss of the Korbanos; they correspond to the times that Korbanos were offered in the Bais Hamikdash. The Rambam, however, disagrees, and says that Tefilla is far more important; Tefilla is from the Torah, with a minimum requirement of davening at least once a day.

If Tefilla is so important according to the Rambam and is De’Oraysa, why is it that we find in the Neviim that there is tremendous negativity towards Korbanos? We see this over and over in Tanach. In Shmuel Aleph, Shaul battled against Amalek, nearly destroying them as he was commanded, but kept alive the king who was able to continue the lineage and the nation; this cost Shaul the kingdom. Shmuel says in 15:9: And Shaul, as well as the people, took pity on Agag, on the best of the sheep, and on all that was good; and they were not willing to destroy them… Hashem comes to Shmuel and says in 15:11 “I have reconsidered My having made Shaul king, for he has turned away from Me and has not fulfilled My word!” Shmuel says to Shaul in 17:22: “Does God delight in Olot and Zevachim as in obedience to the voice of Hashem?” He doesn’t want Korbanos – He just wants obedience. “Behold! To obey is better than a choice offering, to be attentive than the fat of rams.”, Yeshiayahu in 1:11, read on Shabbos Chazon: Why do I need your numerous Korbanos? I am sated with Olos of rams and the fat of fatlings; the blood of bulls, sheep and goats I do not desire. When you come to appear before Me, who sought this from your hand, to trample My courtyards? Bring your worthless Minchos no longer, it is incense of abomination to Me. Hashem does not desire expensive gifts; He wants obedience from his people. And in Yirmiayahu: 7:20: My anger and wrath will pour forth on this place – upon the people and upon the animals, upon the trees and upon the fruits of the earth; it will be burnt and not be extinguished. 7:22-3: Because I did not speak to your forefathers, nor did I command them, on the day I took them out of the land of Egypt, concerning Olos and Zevachim. Rather, it was only this thing that I commanded them, saying: “Listen to My voice, that I will be your G-d and you will be My people; and you will go on the entire way that I command you.” So we clearly see that Hashem considers Korbanos without obedience to be superficial; they don’t impress Hashem. Because what Hashem wants from us is to listen to His voice; but they did not listen to Hashem and just followed after their own heart’s desires.

So we see clearly an issue of the importance of Korbanos – if sacrifices were the primary type of worship, then how could we have survived for 2000 years until now without them? Even though they seem so important, they really are not as important as Tefilla. The Rambam insisted to count the Mitzvah of Tefilla as a De’Oraysah, from the Torah, to emphasize its importance. While the number of times we daven daily is Derabanan, the concept and command to daven is from the Torah – originally we could choose the time and place, but we had to pray a specific arrangement – first with praise of God, then our requests, and then thanks to God. That is what Avodah is all about. According to the Rambam, Tefilla is the essence of Avodah – Le’avdo Bechal Levavechem – prayer unites the soul of the individual with the mind of God. When one brings a Korban, there is a set order of what to do with it; but that really is nothing in comparison to Tefilla, where we involve our emotions and our Neshama to connect with God; that is the ultimate spiritual experience; it is the most powerful religious experience we can get into with our lives. Kavanah comes from Kivun – direction – it is a total focus of our attention to God.

Then the challenge to the Rambam’s opinion is: why didn’t God do away with Korbanos altogether? If the essence of Avodah is emotion and concentration, and Korbanos were just abstract representaions, God could have done away with Korbanos – after all, God wants our heart. We see this also when we daven, that we cannot have an agent for us – it is very personal and powerful, So why have Korbanos at all? According to the Rambam it is because our ancient forefathers leaving Egypt had to be weaned from a tangible type of worship with animal sacrifices; they had needed a tangible image in Egypt. Avodah Zarah started with belief in God, but declined as people worshipped symbols of God – either natural objects or representative depictions of God – and then abandoned God altogether. In the ancient world, humans could not make this large jump from a concrete symbol of God to God Himself. It took time to shift this idea after we were saturated with the Avodah Zarah of Egypt. This was why the Jewish people were commanded to slaughter the lamb – the deities of Egypt – in Egypt, to acknowledge the incorporeal God and abandon the gods of Egypt. It was very hard for people to abandon this primitive type of religion to one that was more subtle, more philosophical. Earlier Biblical personalities understood the symbolism of Korbanos – Noach, Avraham, etc… But they understood Korbanos were not the most important thing – they were just tokens of worship. God wants our hearts, wants a relationship with us; this concept, the I-thou relationship, is most importantly expressed with Tefilla. This is the primary way to connect with God.

Why didn’t Hashem make this clear, outwardly expressing the importance of Tefilla? Why so much emphasis in the Torah about Korbanos, if davening is so much more important? The Rambam says that a fundamental truth of Judaism is that Hashem is reluctant to intervene in the physical world; He is concealed. If he intervenes openly often, then there would be no free will. Hashem wants a world of compliance based on choice, not on twisting arms. There were a few exceptions in history, like where Hashem took away Pharaoh’s free will. Avodah is only worth something if it is done voluntarily with free will; otherwise all our religious actions are meaningless. By creating the human being, God tied Himself down – when He created man He consulted the angels above; by creating man in His image, giving them free will – something angels don’t – He has created something different – intelligent beings that expose God by sometimes choosing not to follow Him. God contracted Himself (Tzimtzum) in order to create the world and allow it to exist; Hashem had to withdraw some of His all powerful existence to allow humanity the freedom to grow spiritually. By endowing us with freedom of choice, there could only be a slow, gradual change in humans. We see this in our parsha – after spiritually polluted by Egyptian society for hundreds of years, Hashem wants to change the nation, allowing them to change in a very slow way – it couldn’t happen overnight. He could not take us quickly to the promised land where the people were worse with their spiritual pollution. The forty years in the desert were necessary and were always part of God’s plan; the desert years were not because of the Meraglim – their slander of the land only caused one major change – the people would not have died during those years had they not sinned. But we needed isolation for a long period of time to grow spiritually in an infectous-free ward. The Rambam says it was not an accident that this slave generation did not make it into the land – they could not be decontaminated, and it was only the second generation that made it in.

Rabbi Sachs says that there were four stunning revolutions that took place over a few hundred year period of time – the first two, the British and American, were both inspired by the Puritans who followed the Bible. They resulted in a stable, long lasting, positive change in society. On the other hand, the French and Russian revolutions were bad and short-lived because they were not led by Puritans or anyone who believed in Torah values. As an example of this from Yitzias Mitzrayim, Hashem commanded us to stay inside our homes that final night in Egypt because He did not want us to go out and take revenge on the Egyptians, creating a blood bath as was seen in many other revolutions. That is not the way of Torah and would not have been in our spiritual best interest.

Wed, January 23 2019 17 Shevat 5779