Actualize Your Nature

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Tzav, continues the description of the Temple Service. What is the relevance of the Korbanot (Sacrifices) to the existential condition of man? The prime motivator of human behavior is what is called the “pursuit of happiness”. Every human endeavor is geared toward that goal. For example, many people devote numerous years of steadfast effort to attaining excellence in certain sports or other professional undertakings–only because they believe that when they have achieved their designated objective–it will make them happy.

These expectations are not always fulfilled. Many “successful” people are extremely unhappy. They might have rejoiced when they first passed the bar and became a lawyer or aced their medical exams and became a doctor, but those feelings do not last very long. It is thus quite clear that financial success–even of great dimensions–is not by itself enough to quell the profound yearning for enduring joy that man craves. Does Judaism have anything to offer on this subject?

At this time of year, the Book of VaYikra is read in Synagogue. The main subject in the opening portions is that of animal Sacrifices. This does not seem to speak to the religious needs of contemporary man nor fill him with spiritual enthusiasm. Two major concepts that permeate the Korbanot are Kapara (Atonement) and Hodaah (Gratitude).

The Torah teaches that man must have a sense of gratitude for all that he has. That is because there is nothing that he truly owns–not even his very existence. To put it simply, no one has created his very own life.

The most fundamental principle of our lives is that we exist because a Being, outside of ourselves, decreed, in accordance with His Supreme Wisdom, that we should be created. Indeed, we have no idea what motivated Him to do this, as we cannot comprehend the “Mind” of G-d. Nevertheless, it is of the utmost importance that man be appreciative of the greatest gift–that of human existence–that one could ever contemplate.

If a person refuses to acknowledge Creation, he will find it impossible to proceed to his goal. He will then conduct his life following his base emotional drives, and what he imagines will bring him happiness. He is therefore guaranteed to experience many disappointments as his sense of what ought to be and what he thinks he is entitled to, is not borne out by reality.

The only way a person can find satisfaction and thus joy is by fulfilling his actual nature. And what exactly that is has been revealed by the Creator in the Book of Genesis which states, “And G-d Created man in His Image, in the Image of G-d Created He him; male and female Created He them. (Bereishit 1:27)”

By entering the Holy Temple and offering an animal on Hashem's Altar, man is acknowledging that G-d is the Supreme Master of all that exists. He also comes face-to-face with the fact that he is unique and different from the beast that he sacrifices. He recognizes that the animal is a creature of instinctual constitution which lacks the ability to think, contemplate, and make intelligent decisions.

Only man has been granted the gift of a rational faculty which enables him to gain an understanding of the laws of nature and to utilize them in his service. Just consider the amazing progress that man has made in medicine, communication, travel, etc. The history of human progress testifies to the words of the Torah that man was created in “the Image of G-d.”

The ultimate purpose of the Temple Service is for man to renew his awareness that the Creator has endowed him with a special mechanism that allows him to think and obtain genuine wisdom and understanding.

It is therefore a terrible sin to waste or corrupt the great faculty we possess. To live a life based only on carnal pursuits is to negate the divine faculty which differentiates us from animals and allows us to emulate the Ways of our Creator.

The Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) testifies to the phenomenon of Creation and G-d’s ongoing role in maintaining the universe. Man comes there to express his gratitude for the great gift of the Divine soul, and also to achieve atonement for the sins he has committed against it. For every sin is a breach of man’s obligation to recognize his higher self and to live in a manner that imitates the Wise and Compassionate Ways of his Creator.

By living with wisdom and operating with justice and compassion, man is satisfying his nature as a rational being. This is thus the formula for happiness in this world and access to the one to come. May we merit to achieve it.

Shabbat Shalom.