Not For His Sake

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s parsha Vayikra, is the first sedra of the third Book of the Torah.  The last few parshas of Shemot described in great detail the construction of the Mishkan.  Vayikra continues the theme by outlining the system of Korbanot (sacrifices), the bringing of which was the main function of the Holy Temple.  The idea of sacrifice is not an easy one to comprehend.  In fact, if not properly understood it can lead to serious theological mistakes.  The common notion is that man offers something of significant value to Hashem.  This idea is problematic.  How can man offer anything to G-d who is the source of all that exists and who has no needs of any kind?  It is true that Judaism demands that we be “servants” of Hashem, fulfill His commands, utter His praises and so on.  It is vitally important that a person not imagine that his “service,” in any way, provides any benefit to the Creator.  The truth of the matter is that our understanding of Hashem is so limited, due to the finite character of our intelligence, that the praises we offer do not even begin to describe His actual greatness.  The purpose of serving G-d is not to “benefit” Him, but is exclusively to enhance our lives as individuals and a community so that we can obtain happiness in this world and perfect our souls for eternal life.  Nachmanides (The Ramban) articulates this doctrine in his commentary on the Chumash saying   “…the benefit of observing the commandments is not for His sake exalted be He, He is not in need of the light of the candelabrium as one might think, or that He needs the food of the offerings and the aroma of the incense as might appear from their simple meanings.  Even regarding the memorial He has made for His wonderful works  that He commanded us to perform in memory of the Exodus and Creation, the benefit is not for Him, but so that we should know the truth and be meritorious enough to be worthy that He protects us, for our utterances and remembrances of His wonders  are regarded by Him as things of naught and vanity.” (ie. the praises themselves are not accurate depictions of His true Greatness)

We must be humble and have an accurate assessment of where we stand in the scheme of things.  We are imperfect beings who need Divine wisdom and guidance in order to overcome our defects and elevate our lives to the level of truth, justice and authentic compassion.  Unlike other religions the Torah does not believe that man is evil or “hopeless.”  It does believe in the perfectibility of man through the proper “Service of Hashem.”  This means that we eschew false pride and submit to His authority.  It is only through serving Him that we are faithful to ourselves.  This is the true orientation that we must have toward the world of Korbanot.   By bringing a sacrifice we are affirming that all belongs to Hashem for He created it and it is to be used for His Glory.  This means that man is on the road to perfection when he relinquishes his egotism and recognizes the glory and majesty of the Being who created him, “from nothing,” and endowed him with a pure and divine soul which enables him to recognize his Maker and become “G-d like” by emulating His ways as they have been revealed to us in His Torah.

Shabbat Shalom