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Torah Attitude: 17th of Tamuz and Parashas Pinchas: The daily offerings and the land of Israel
The Prophet Zechariah refers to the 17th of Tammuz as "the fast of the fourth". One of the five calamities that occurred on the 17th of Tammuz was that the Tamid offering had to be discontinued. If we analyze the history of mankind as related in the Torah, we see the essential importance that bringing offerings takes in the Torah. G'd accepted Abel's offering but rejected what Cain had to offer. After the Flood, Noah as well wanted to express his appreciation for being saved and decided to bring offerings. Abraham's offspring would be entitled to the land of Israel in the merit of bringing animals as offerings. During the time of the Second Temple, two brothers of the Chashmonaitic dynasty, Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, were in a feud. Through the bringing of an offering, a person would actually bring himself near and close to G'd. The Kohanim were divided into twenty four groups and the rest of the Jewish people were split into twenty four sections. The obligation to bring the daily offering is a national duty for the whole nation as one unit. But at the same time, every individual member of the Jewish people has a part in the offering. This is very different than the understanding of the Sadducees who claimed that the daily offering was not a national duty but a voluntary offering that every individual decided whether to bring it or not. G'd answered, "I have already established that they shall read the portions that deal with the offerings and I will consider it as if they brought the offerings, and forgive them for their sins". Not only does the reading of the portions of the offerings, but also the main part of our three daily prayers correspond to the service in the Temple. In each of our three daily prayers we express our longing for G'd to restore His full presence with the building of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Fast of the fourth
This week the period of communal mourning for the destruction of the Temple starts with the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz. This is one of the fasts that are mentioned by the Prophet Zechariah (8:19). He refers to this day as "the fast of the fourth", meaning "of the fourth month", as we start the count of the months from the month of Nissan (see Shemos 12:2).
Calamity of no daily offering
The Talmud (Taanis 26a) describes five calamities that occurred on the 17th of Tammuz. One of these calamities was that the Tamid offering, that was brought daily, had to be discontinued towards the end of the First Temple, as the enemy did not allow the necessary sheep to be brought into the Temple grounds. The obligation of bringing this daily offering of two male lambs is described in detail in this week's Parasha (see Bamidbar 28:1-8).
Essential importance of daily offerings
After almost two thousand years in exile, we wonder what is the significance of these daily offerings that their discontinuation should be considered such a calamity, equivalent to when Moses broke the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments. However, if we analyze the history of mankind as related in the Torah, we see the essential importance that bringing offerings takes in the Torah.
Offerings of Cain and Abel
Soon after Creation, the Torah relates how Cain and Abel both brought offerings. G'd accepted Abel's offering but rejected what Cain had brought. Rashi (Bereishis 4:3) points out that Cain made his offering from inferior produce. On the other hand, the Torah (ibid 4) describes Abel's offering as being from the firstlings of his flock and from the best quality. The Maharal (in a Drashah printed at the end of his Haggadah, p.205) explains the difference in attitude between the two brothers. Cain thought that he could appease G'd by bringing an offering on his terms and otherwise do as he pleased. This is similar to someone giving a donation to charity, thinking that by doing so he will find favour in G'd's eyes, and otherwise does not need to worry about his lifestyle. However, King Solomon writes about such offerings (Mishlei 21:27): "The offering of the wicked is an abomination", and as such G'd rejected it. On the other hand, Abel understood that an offering was an expression of gratitude to G'd, and he therefore felt it was only right to bring from the first and best that he could offer.
After the Flood, Noah as well wanted to express his appreciation for being saved, and he decided to bring offerings. When G'd saw these offerings, He said (Bereishis 8:21): "I shall not continue to curse the earth because of man …" and G'd blessed Noah and his children and said (ibid 9:1): "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land."
Offerings merit land of Israel
Each of our Patriarchs also built altars and brought offerings on them. When G'd revealed Himself to Abraham, and promised him that his descendants would be like the stars, and that they would inherit the land of Israel, Abraham asked (Bereishis 15:8): "By what will I know that I will inherit it?" Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Taanis 27b) that Abraham's question was "in what merit will my offspring be entitled to the land of Israel?" The Talmud explains that when G'd told Abraham to take three calves, three goats, and three rams, He indicated that they would be entitled to the land of Israel in the merit of bringing these animals as offerings.
Feud between Hyrcanus and Aristobolus
In Bava Kama (82b), the Talmud relates that during the time of the Second Temple, two brothers of the Chashmonaitic dynasty, Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, were in a feud. One of them had fortified himself in the Temple grounds, and the other lay in siege outside. Despite their feud, they both wanted to ensure that the daily offerings were brought on the Temple altar. Every day the people inside would lower a basket with money from the Temple coffers for the ones outside, and they would receive the lambs needed to bring the offerings in return. One day an elderly person in the Temple turned into a traitor and used a secret code, and signaled to someone outside that as long as the ones inside had the merit of bringing the daily offerings, the ones outside would never be able to overpower them. The next day, when they lowered the basket with the money they sent them two pigs. From all this we see the tremendous importance of offerings in general, and the special significance of the daily offerings brought in the Temple.
Feel close to G'd
The Hebrew word for "offering" is korban, which has the same root as the word karov, meaning "someone who is near", like a relative or close friend. This clearly indicates that through the bringing of an offering, a person would actually bring himself near and close to G'd. In every relationship, if one party is in the position to constantly help and assist the other party, the receiver will eventually feel uncomfortable. However, when an opportunity arises and he can, in some small measure, reciprocate and give something to his benefactor, he will feel extremely good about himself. G'd does not need our offerings, and has no benefit from them, as it says (Tehillim 50:8-13): "I shall not rebuke you for your offerings … I need not take any bulls from your house, nor any goats from your pens. For all the animals of the forest are Mine, the cattle of a thousand mountains … Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?" We really have nothing to offer and give, as it further says: (ibid 117:12): "With what can I repay G'd for all that He has given to me?" However, when one brought an offering, one would have a very good feeling for having the opportunity and ability to bring something that G'd requested. In reality, all one would do is give G'd satisfaction that His instructions have been fulfilled (see Rashi Bamidbar 27:8). But that is in itself tremendous.
Twenty four sections
This applies to every offering brought by an individual, as well as the communal offerings brought daily and on special occasions. However, we find that there is a special significance to the daily offerings. The Talmud (Taanis 26a) describes that the Kohanim were divided into twenty four groups. Each group performed the service for one week. In the same way, the rest of the Jewish people were split into twenty four sections. Each section had people living in Jerusalem, who would attend to the daily offerings during the week when it was their turn, as representatives for their whole section. The other members of the section would fast and gather in their cities, saying special prayers and listening to readings of the Torah. In this way, they connected to the offerings in the Temple. Through this arrangement the daily offerings involved and united the whole nation. Every twenty four weeks, approximately twice a year, a section of the people would focus on the Temple service and would connect with their Creator in a special way. The Talmud teaches that they would actually read every day part of the portion dealing with Creation from the beginning of the Torah.
Singular and plural
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsh points out that when G'd told Moses to instruct the Jewish people about the daily offerings, he first used the plural form (Bamidbar 28:2): "My offering … you [plural] shall guard to bring Me in its fixed time." Later (ibid 4) it says: "One lamb you [singular] shall make in the morning … " Says Rabbi Hirsh, the obligation to bring the daily offering is a national duty for the whole nation as one unit. But at the same time, every individual member of the Jewish people has a part in the offering. That is why there was a yearly collection of half a shekel from every male adult to provide the funds for the daily offering (see Talmud Shekalim 2a).
National and individual obligations
This is very different than the understanding of the Sadducees who claimed that the daily offering was not a national duty but a voluntary offering that every individual decided whether to bring or not. They based this on the fact that the Torah uses the singular form by the daily offering. The Talmud (Menachos 65a) relates that there was a public dispute between the Rabbis and the Sadducees that lasted for eight days. Eventually, the Rabbis succeeded to convince everyone that the daily offering is a national obligation. This was a major accomplishment and was celebrated for years to come every year during those eight days. Rabbi Hirsh explains the significance of this dispute. The Sadducees wanted to imply that every person has the freedom to serve G'd in any way and time that suits him. They rejected the obligation of the individual to subject himself to the community and its spiritual leaders.
Reading corresponds to Temple service
The Talmud (Ta'anis 27b) relates that when G'd promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Israel, in the merit of bringing offerings, Abraham asked what will be when there is no Temple? To this G'd answered, "I have already established that they shall read the portions that deal with the offerings and I will consider it as if they brought the offerings, and forgive them for their sins".
Three prayer services
This does not only apply to the reading of the portions of the offerings. Also, the main part of our three daily prayers corresponds to the service in the Temple. The Talmud (Berachos 26a) explains that the three prayer services were originally instituted by our three Patriarchs, but the Rabbis established that they should correspond to the daily offerings. Shacharis corresponds to the morning offering, Minchah corresponds to the afternoon offering, and Maariv corresponds to the pieces of the offerings brought upon the altar at night.
Restore G'd's presence
Throughout our exile we have kept up these three daily prayers. In each prayer we express our longing for G'd to restore His full presence with the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. Then we will see the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah (8:19), when "the fast of the fourth and the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth, will be for the House of Judah for joy and happiness and for times of celebration, and they will love truth and peace."
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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