Drawing Close to Hashem                

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Terumah, describes in very minute detail every aspect of the great national project of constructing the Mishkan (Tabernacle). This task was given to the nation after the Revelation on Mt. Sinai and took about a year to be completed. The Mishkan was the precursor of the Holly Temple which would subsequently be  established in Yerushalayim. One would have thought that building the Mishkan could wait until the Jews entered the Land. However as they traversed the Wilderness on the journey to Eretz Yisrael it was essential that they have, at hand, all they needed to fulfill their religious requirements.

The major service performed in the Sanctuary is the offering of sacrificial animals (or certain birds and even leavened and unleavened cakes of flour). While Jews long for the return of the Beit  Hamikdosh it is important to recognize the dangers that are connected to this particular mode of worship.

The Prophets famously railed against the bringing of offerings and seemingly discouraged this practice. Perhaps it is because this activity lends itself to abuse and moral corruption. The notion of sacrifice can convey the false impression that man can actually give something to Hashem.

Such an idea is patently absurd because Hashem is not in need of anything and certainly not anything that man could possibly give Him. Even man’s righteous behavior does nothing for G-d. This truth is expressed in the Neila service of Yom Kippur in which we recite; “You set man apart from the beginning and You considered him worthy to stand before You, for who can tell You what to do, and if he is righteous what can he give You?”

We, therefore, should not entertain the belief that somehow in bringing sacrifices or performing any good deed we are doing something for Hashem. But if not, then for whom are we doing this? The answer is that every Mitzvah we perform no matter how altruistic it may appear is done primarily for ourselves. Every commandment improves us intellectually, morally and ethically. The blessing we recite prior to performing a mitzva praises Hashem, the King of the universe  who “has sanctified us with His commandments...” We thus become sanctified as a result of performing the mitzvot.

What then is the purpose and benefit of Karbanot?  First and foremost is the recognition that everything comes from Hashem Who is the Creator of all that exists. He has made everything for a specific objective and we should use the objects He has provided for us in the manner which He intended.

In addition we should realize that Hashem has created us and endowed us with the “divine” soul which is described as the Tzelem Elokim (Image of G-d). Our task in life is to guard against corruption of the Neshama and strive to raise it to a higher level of perfection.

Some commentators have pointed out that word Korban (sacrifice) comes from the word Karev which means to “draw close”. In “approaching”  Hashem man realizes that he partakes of a unique nature which connects him to that which is divine.

This awareness is vital because the basis of personal holiness is the affirmation that man is not an animal, however sophisticated. His true essence does not reside in that part of him which is instinctual but in the dimension which is spiritual. These two forces in man are constantly at war with each other and we are always confronted with the need to decide if we are to follow the path dictated by desire or that mandated by knowledge. Which of the two elements are more powerful? 

The Rambam addresses this issue in the Guide For The Perplexed part 3 chapter 8. He says; “...it was necessary that the very noble form of man, which is the image and likeness of G-d, as has been shown by us, should be joined to the substance of dust and darkness, the source of all defect and loss. For these reasons the Creator gave to the form of man (ie. the soul) power, rule, and dominion over the substance (the body); the form can subdue the substance, refuse the fulfillment of its desires, and reduce them, as far as possible, to a just and proper measure.”

By offering a sacrifice unto Hashem man affirms that He is the Creator of the universe and everything in it. He then recognizes that he is a unique being possessed of a divine soul whose task it is to emulate the ways of the true and ultimate Divine Being, Hashem. The more he refines and elevates his neshama the more he becomes godlike and thus truly “draws close” to Hashem. May we merit to achieve this.

Shabbat Shalom 

Dear Friends,

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