A Sacrifice Unto Hashem    

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Vayikra, takes up the subject of Korbanot, Sacrifices.  This is one of the most controversial theological issues in Judaism.  Many questions have been raised regarding the purpose of sacrifices.  The biggest problem is that superficially, it appears as though in bringing the Korban man is offering something to Hashem.  Yet, we must ask, how is such a notion even thinkable.  The foundation of Judaism is that the only true being is G-d.  He exists eternally, by virtue of His “nature” outside of time and space.  Everything else, the universe and all that is in it exists only because of His Will.  A fundamental belief of Judaism is that He has created the world from nothing.  Everything exists because of His Will and remains in existence only as long as His Will sustains it.  One should not imagine that G-d is in need of any of His creations.  Rambam states that if all of creation were to cease existing He alone would exist, for everything is dependent upon Him and He, blessed be He, is in need of nothing that He has created.  G-d is completely different from us, and we must avoid the danger of projecting our own framework onto the Creator.  All our actions and endeavors serve a purpose ie.  fulfill a need that we have.  We cannot entertain the idea that G-d creates things to fulfill “needs” that He has for He has no needs.  Thus, there is nothing we can “do for Hashem.”  All that He has commanded us is for our benefit and perfection, alone.  This idea is expressed in the Neilah prayer of Yom Kippur which states, “if you act righteously what do you give to Him?”  The idea is clear and unequivocal.  We are to study the Torah and perform the mitzvot for our sake alone, to attain the “good” in this world and be worthy of eternal existence in the world to come.

This theology is incorporated into the institution of sacrifices.  The most important virtue is humility which is possible only if one recognizes his place in the universe.  Man must relinquish his false pride which encourages him to feel that the world revolves around him and his needs and that he is entitled to all the pleasures of this world.  Man’s overestimation of his importance in the scheme of things is the greatest obstacle to his perfection.  Korban directly addresses the human defect of egotism.  It instills in him the notion that his very existence is “unnecessary” and is purely an unearned gift from the Creator of the Universe.  Thus the goal of sacrifice is for man to renounce his narcissism and attain humility.  He brings a precious possession, his own animal and “offers” it to Hashem.  He is acknowledging by word and deed that it is really not his animal but a creation of Hashem who is the true owner.  The same applies, by extension, to his own body and soul.  He recognizes the profound idea that is stated in the Slichot prayers, “the soul is yours and the body is your handiwork , have mercy on your creation.”

The foundation of a righteous life is the recognition, that we are not the cause of our own existence but are created beings who have been designed by the Supreme Being for a specific type of existence.  By bringing a sacrifice to Him we proclaim in a very concrete manner, that everything belongs to Hashem and He has made it available to us so that we can serve Him, not because He needs it but purely for the sake of our perfection.

Shabbat Shalom