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Rabbi's Corner


Vayikrah – Rabbi Lerner – March 10, 2019


Korbanos: an Ideal Avodah or Just Bedi’eved?


Vayikrah is referred to as Toras Kohanim because it contains the laws of Korbanos, Tumah, the Avodah in the Mishkan, etc..

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin – (Confronting Korbanos). There is a major contradiction between what the Rambam says about Korbanos in different places.

Of all of the Mitzvos, Korbanos are very difficult to understand – in our times in particular, it is hard to fathom the need for cutting up and burning animals for G-d. But it is a pillar of religion. We remind ourselves of its importance three times a day at the conclusion of Shmoneh Esrei, where we pray for the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash and restoration of the institution of Korbanos. So it is not just some ancient, archaic ritual of the past. The third Bais Hamikdash will be built by the Moshiach and therefore Korbanos will go on forever.

Rabbi Goldin: The Torah details a long history of Korbanos. The first Korbanos were brought by Kayin and Hevel. From this story there is a notion that in order to draw near to Hashem, one needs to bring a gift. The work Korban contains the word Karov, to get close to Hashem. Kayin brought substandard produce, Hevel a choice animal; Hashem favored Hevel’s while Kayin’s korban was rejected, making him angry. So we see that when it comes to Korbanos, no matter what is brought, what is important in order to bring the person and God closer, one must bring better quality material. We must not bring Korbanos in a cheap and superficial way. Noach and Avraham brought Korbanos that were voluntary, and resulted in a favorable response from Hashem. So it is clear they remain powerful activities.

There were two exceptions to the rule as to the purpose of Korbanos. The first was the korban of Akeidas Yitzchak. Hashem commanded Avraham to offer Yitzchak as an Olah. He had waited years to have a son, and then Hashem commanded him to offer him up as a korban, and is only stopped at the last minute. Avraham replaced Yitzchak with a ram, and this became a tremendous Zechus for us – we say this daily and we especially remember it on the Yomim Noraim. Korbanos in this sense are shown in a very favorable light. The second was later on in the Torah; at the Bris Bain Habesarim Avraham was told of his descendants’ suffering in Egypt. Before they left Mitzrayim, they had to bring the Korban Pesach; everyone had to take a lamb, the god of Egypt, and slay it. It was a tremendous act of bravery for these slaves of the Mitzrim to slaughter the gods of Egypt – barbecuing them outside in a public way, spreading the blood on the door posts. They needed to do this, taking their lives into their hands, in order to be worthy of leaving Egypt. So this too showed a very powerful positive role to Korbanos.

Rabbi Goldin: When you look into the Rambam, there is a stunning contradiction between two of his writings. In the Mishneh Torah, he devotes several sections to discuss Korbanos. In Hilchos Me’ilah, where a holy thing is used for personal use, it is a major prohibition; the Rambam here waxes philosophical – he writes that these Chukim are irrational mitzvos that we don’t understand. Chazal say that Hashem gave us these Chukim to test us, even though (and maybe especially since) we don’t understand them; we don’t have permission to speculate the reason for them; if we don’t do them, then it proves we don’t believe in God. We are supposed to do them despite our not understanding them. The Yetzer Harah is always testing us, trying to get us not to fulfill these mitzvos – same as with the mitzvos of Shatnez, kashrus of different animals, the Parah Adumah which can metaheir some and metameh others; sending off a goat over a cliff on Yom Kippur to cleans our sins. None of these make sense to us. Similarly, all Korbanos are chukim that are beyond our comprehension. Our sages tell us that despite the fact that we don’t understand, it is because of Korbanos that the world is sustained; that is what keeps the world going. By keeping the illogical laws as well as those we understand, we earn Olam Habah. When Hashem commanded us to do the Mitzvos in the Torah, Chukim come first and Mishpatim (logical commands) afterwards – as we see in Devarim 30:16: …to love Hashem, your God, to walk in His ways, to observe His Mitzvos, His Chukim, His Mishpatim – then you will live and multiply.. So here the Rambam says that Korbanos make no sense, and God is testing us. However, in the Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam has a totally different approach as to the reason for Korbanos. The Torah is operating under the principle that human nature doesn’t allow for abrupt changes, enabling us to go from one end to the other – MiKatzeh LaKatzeh; we are creatures of habit, easily getting addicted and set in our ways. It was impossible to take the Jewish people who had spent hundreds of years in an idolatrous society and in a few weeks have them worshipping an invisible God. Hashem wanted us to change slowly by using mediums already in our past, and reorienting them into a different direction. He was going to allow us to continue with sacrifices that were ingrained within us, but instead of directing them to other gods, it would be to Him. We would be destroyed if we direct them to other entities. God wanted transference, to redirect Korbanos to Hashem, to elevate these actions to recognize there is only one God, and we bring Korbanos only to one place to offer them. There is a Midrash to support this in Vayikrah Rabah: Rebbi Pinchas in the name of Rebbi Levi: there was a prince who was very arrogant; in his arrogance he ate all kinds of disgusting, harmful foods; the king is upset by the behavior of his son. The king tells him going forward to eat all of his meats and foods at the royal table in the palace, and to eat only good foods that would not contaminate him; this was to break his addiction. So in Egypt we became addicted to idol worship, and now Hashem is giving us a means to wean us off idol worship and redirecting it only to Hashem in a special place. Hashem wanted us to eat only at His table so we would get close to Him, and we would ultimately no longer be interested in idolatry. In Vayikrah: 17:5,7: So that Bnai Yisrael will bring their feast-offerings that they have been slaughtering in the open field, and they shall bring them to Hashem to the entrance of the Ohel Moed to the Kohen; and they shall slaughter them as feast peace-offerings to Hashem… And they shall no longer slaughter their offerings to the demons after whom they stray. The point of this is so that they will no longer offer Korbanos to idols. It was to pull them away from the shmutz of Mitzrayim, to bring them back to holiness.

The Rambam in discussing the building of the Bais Hamikdash says the site of the Mizbeach is very precise – it can never be changed. There is a Mesorah: It is the Mizbeach for the Olah of Bnei Yisrael – it is the place where the Akeida took place on Har Hamoriyah. It is the place that was shown by Hashem to Dovid, the threshing floor of Aravnah HaYevushi. It is only in this exact spot the Mizbeach needs to be built. This is where Shlomo had to build it. It was the place of the Akeida. It was the place where Noach built his altar. It is the place where Kayin and Hevel offered their Korbanos. It is the place where Adam was created. So this shows Korbanos in a very positive light; it was always a mitzvah De’Oraysa and not begrudgingly given to us to wean us from idolatry. It was always a positive mitzvah, an important way of serving God.

Rav Twersky: what the Rambam writes in the Moreh Nevuchim is often apologetics; but what is written in the Mishneh Torah is the ideal message.

Ramban criticizes the Rambam; he says the Rambam’s words in the Moreh Nevuchim are ‘empty words.’ Korbanos are the essence of what Judaism is about. They are needed to overcome human weakness. Korbanos are designed to atone for three different activities of humans: thoughts, words, and actions with our body. The Torah tries to elevate all three of these human avenues. The Ramban speaks glowingly of Korbanos, as we saw with Akeidas Yitzchak – the symbolism of the korban as we learned from the Akeida: a korban is to substitute for our life. The first action of a korban Smichah, where we place our hands on the head of the animal and confess; this is to atone for our evil actions. We say Vidui over the animal, which is to atone for our evil speech. We have to have the proper thoughts about the korban when it is offered – this atones for the evil and perverse thoughts we have. The actions we do with Korbanos therefore atone for all three of the human activity – actions, words and even our bad thoughts. The Korbanos act to cleanse the person.

The sefer Hachinuch says we are drawn after our actions – by bringing Korbanos with all of the entailed details, we are drawn after it.

Rav Goldin: other than the Olah, the Korbanos are not given totally to Hashem. The idea of Korbanos is all about relationships. Hashem wants us to take part of the korban and to eat it in the Bais Hamikdash while offering part of the animal to Hashem. We are eating at His table. In the future, the Korbanos will continue. According to the Rambam, something is counted as a Mitzvah only if for all time – so animal Korbanos are mitzvahs because they will be performed in the final Bais Hamikdash as well. It is the highest and most powerful way to draw near to God. The Korbanos may be alien to us, but we have to accept the higher level behind them.

Tue, March 19 2019 12 Adar II 5779