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Vayikra 5772

By: Rav Jonathan Bailey

Blood, Guts and Gore - Rav Jonathan Bailey The first two parshiyot of Vsyikra describe the system of korbanot that God set up for His nation for implementation in the newly built Mishkan. Famous arguments concerning the reason behind korbanot (of Rambam and Ramban) aside, the theory that the Torah is ‘eternal’ is one that must be understood. We cannot deny that the rules for a Jewish slave, the prohibitions against worshiping idols and the detailed descriptions of bringing korbanot (along with many, many others) tend to lose their significance in our contemporary life. So, how is the Torah ‘eternal’? (I will not even entertain the theory of Bible Codes as another possible approach). Personally, I agree with the theory that it’s not the actual ‘outdated’ details that are the eternal part of the Torah, but rather the lessons and rules learned out from these in-their-time practices that will, as an ultimate Truth, apply themselves to God-fearing Jews just as forcefully in every generation. If this is so, with the technical practice of slaughtering animals in a temple long gone, the lessons these practices of korbanot were instituted to convey must be understood for us to truly understand God’s ultimate desires in this realm of Jewish practice. There are five major korbanot and, this week, I’d like to discuss the meaning behind the latter two; however, what we must first understand is the notion of ‘bringing’ a ‘korban’. The definitions of ‘offering’ or ‘sacrificing’ are inexact - to ‘offer’ something is to give to someone something one needs - God needs nothing from us; to ‘sacrifice’ means to give up something for someone/something else - God, once again, does not need us to give up something for Him. Rather, the meaning must be understood from the word itself –‘korban’ from the root ‘karav’ to come close. In others words, the act of bringing a korban is one where we are coming closer to God (even in Hebrew, we say ‘Le’Hakriv Korban,’ to bring close a korban’). So, this whole system of animal ‘sacrifices’ is to enable us to become closer to God, cement, advance, and strengthen our relationship with Him. There are two methods with which to facilitate this goal: 1) support our journey towards Him, advance the path we’re already on towards the Divine relationship and 2) return us to this path if we ever stray from it. The Hatat, as mentioned above, was brought when someone sinnedinadvertently; if it was purposeful, a korban wouldn’t help (he would have to repent more deeply) and if it was totally accidental, mindless, there would be no need for any action. On the other hand, although someone that transgresses inadvertently cannot be found truly ‘guilty’ (i.e. worthy of punishment), the transgressor feels that nonetheless, he has strayed from his relationship with God. Technically, he sinned in such a way where he is not judiciously liable, but, as one who cares deeply about his relationship with God, he wants to do something to express his desire to reestablish the relationship he has strayed from by his sin - the korban Hatat facilitates this expression. The Asham, the ‘guilt’ offering, the other obligatory korban in the list, is brought for basically two reasons: 1) acting dishonesty towards another; 2) when one is in doubt whether he has sinned or not (and if he subsequently finds that he has, he brings a Hatat). Both reasons are founded on a similar theme: while one may make monetary reparations for someone he acted dishonestly towards, he has nevertheless balked the social system that God established, and to assuage these feelings of guilt (for there is no real guilt once he has repaid his victim) a ‘guilt’ offering is brought. In the same vein, when one is in doubt as to whether he transgressed, he is not technically liable, but, if he feels guilty at having perhaps somewhat besmirched or lessened his relationship with God, he may bring a guilt offering to alleviate these guilty feelings and reestablish his original relationship. Seen in this light, the korban system truly becomes one of the greatest opportunities people had to actively control their relationship with God. When one faltered or weakened in his connection with God, there were specific, tangible steps with which to amend the problem and return to the former state of Divine association. It is not coincidental that Hazal chose the tefilla as a replacement for the korban system. Daily, we have the opportunity to stand before God and use the liturgy’s detailed and all-inclusive brakhot to facilitate the placation of our misgivings and doubts and mend our mistakes and missteps that have caused an undesired rift in the relationship we so greatly cherish. It is these eternal lessons the latter two korbanot convey; lessons we can surely employ, through our own contemporary application, in our daily lives. (Next week I will address for first three and the lessons they teach). An Olah is burned up totally to God, and if we understand that the animal is a representation of the bringer, himself (for if he truly offered himselfup to God, that would quickly end any possible future to the relationship), then the bringing of an Olah allows the person to express his desire to betotally and all-inclusively for God. An Olah would be brought, therefore, when someone felt that his dedication to God was faltering and he desired to perform some kind of tangible expression to battle these feelings. A Minchah is mentioned twice in the Torah. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Once is when Yaakov sends one to Esav, the other when he sends one to Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt. The common factor between both these cases is that Yaakov is sending this gift to a higher-up; so, we can infer that when someone brings a Minchah to God, he is expressing his understanding of God’s mastery and authority over him. A Minchah would have been brought, therefore, when someone was feeling particularly independent after a successful business deal or victory, for example, in order to ensure that he remains levelheaded and truly understanding of his rightful role in the world. Interesting to note that the unburned portion of the Minchah went to the Kohanim, the servants of God! Lastly is the Shlamim. As the name denotes, this was brought when someone was ‘complete,’ content, satisfied with his lot. In order to express that he truly understands where it has come from (after the same successful business deal he may very well forget the profit’s truesource) he brings a symbolic representation of his property, an animal, to God, the source of his contentedness. Interesting to note that while some is burned and some goes to the Kohanim, the majority is given back to him to eat and enjoy- the very korban that was to express his true understanding of where his ‘animal’ possessions come from is the very same korban that, after expressing this comprehension to God, He gives some back to the bringer to be content! Brilliant! So, when someone wanted to express his total dedication to God and their relationship (Olah), his understanding of God’s role in his life and his in God’s (Minkhah), his true understanding of his contentment (Shlamim), his desire to return to the path from which he strayed (Hatat) or assuage his feelings of guilt that have besmirched his pure relationship with God (Asham), God has set up a perfect, tangible system for him in which to do successfully and fully facilitate these goals. It is said that the Tefilla sysytem is our 'replacement' for the korabanot: based on the approach listed above, perhaps our tefilla can be appreciated and employed on a totally different level.

 

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