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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tzav/Shabbos Hagadol: The purpose of animal offerings

Summary

What is the purpose to slaughter animals to bring offerings? The sheep, the goat and the cow, have been worshipped more than any other animals. Many Jews had become idol worshippers, and in order to make a complete break with their past G'd commanded them, while they were still in Egypt, to take a lamb and slaughter it as an offering to G'd. The Shabbos before Pesach is referred to as Shabbos Hagadol. "Draw forth" means draw yourselves away from idol worship and cleave to G'd's commandment to bring the Pesach offering. In Egypt it was common practice to bring offerings to the demons in the fields. We have many shortcomings, but we do not have an evil inclination to serve idols, so why will we have to bring offerings again in the Third Temple? There were no idol worshippers in the world when Cain and Abel brought their offerings. "For I do not want the death of the sinner, says HASHEM G'd, and you shall repent and live." Every act Abraham did with the offering at the Akeidah was accompanied by a prayer that G'd should accept it as if Abraham did this to Isaac. All offerings entail an aspect of atonement for transgressions and shortcomings, whether committed by an individual or the whole community. "Only due to the great mercy of G'd do I achieve atonement by bringing an animal instead of sacrificing myself." The Hebrew word for offering, "korban", is from the root of "karev" which means to bring close and unify.

Purpose of animal offerings?

We concluded last week with a question: why are we commanded in the Torah to bring animal offerings? Obviously, G'd does not need anything from us, so what is the purpose to slaughter animals to bring these offerings?

Sheep, goat and cow

The Rambam discusses this in "The Guide to the Perplexed" (3:46) and points out that the three species that are used as offerings, the sheep, the goat and the cow, have been worshipped more than any other animals. The Torah describes how the Egyptians worshipped the sheep. After the plague of the wild animals, Pharaoh suggested that the Jewish people should stay in Egypt and bring offerings there rather than going out of the country. To this Moses responded and said (Shemos 8:22): "It is not proper to do so for we are going to offer the deity of Egypt to HASHEM our G'd." The people of Kasdim (Chaldea) used to worship the demons that were pictured as goats, and even nowadays, says the Rambam, is the cow revered in India and is not slaughtered. In order to educate the Jewish people and impress upon them that no animal and no being has any power, G'd commanded us to offer the very species that other nations worshipped and we slaughter them as offerings in the honour of G'd.

Complete break with idol worshippers

This was especially important after the Jewish people had been living among the Egyptians for two hundred and ten years. Our sages teach that many Jews had become idol worshippers, and in order to make a complete break with their past G'd commanded them, while they were still in Egypt, to take a lamb and slaughter it as an offering to G'd.

Shabbos Hagadol

This Shabbos, the Shabbos before Pesach, is referred to as Shabbat Hagadol (The Big Sabbath). In his commentary to Shulchan Aruch (Mishneh Berurah Orach Chaim 430:1), the Chofetz Chaim explains that the year the Jewish people left Egypt, 2448 after the creation of the world, the tenth of Nissan, the day they had to take the Pesach offering, fell on Shabbos (see Shemos 12:3). When the Egyptians saw every Jewish family taking a sheep and tying it to their bed they asked what was going on. The Jews answered that G'd had commanded that four days later, on the fourteenth of Nissan, they were to slaughter the lambs as a Pesach offering. The Egyptians were very distressed, that there was going to be such a mass slaughter of their idol, but miraculously they could not do anything about it. Since this big miracle took place on Shabbos, this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Hagadol.

Draw away from idols

This is the deeper meaning of Moses' instruction to the elders of Israel in Egypt (Shemos 12:21): "Draw forth and take for yourselves from the flock for your families and slaughter the Pesach offering." Rabbi Yossi the Galeli explains in the Mechilta that "draw forth" means draw yourselves away from idol worship and cleave to G'd's commandment to bring the Pesach offering.

Not bring offerings to demons

With this insight we can well understand a special commandment that only applied in the wilderness. Throughout the sojourn in the wilderness our ancestors were not permitted to slaughter any animals for human consumption, unless they brought part of it as an offering. It says (Vayikra 17:3-7): "A man from the House of Israel who slaughters a bull, a lamb or a goat and he has not brought it to the entrance of the Tabernacle to bring it as an offering to G'd it shall be considered as bloodshed for that man And they shall no longer slaughter their offerings to the demons." The Ibn Ezra explains that in Egypt it was common practice to bring offerings to the demons in the fields. G'd therefore commanded that every animal must be slaughtered in the Tabernacle and not anywhere else.

Offerings in the Third Temple?

A number of questions arise from the Rambam's explanation. We can understand that there was a need to teach the Jewish people at the time of the exodus from Egypt that animals are not deities. Even throughout the time in the wilderness, and till after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, when we were surrounded and often influenced by idol worshippers, it makes sense that we were commanded to offer animals in honour of G'd, to show that He is the only One to worship and everything else in the world is subservient to Him and has no power of their own. But the Talmud (Yuma 69b) teaches that, at the beginning of the Second Temple, Ezra and the men of the Great Assembly prayed to G'd that the evil inclination to serve idols should be removed from the Jewish people and that their prayer was accepted. So why did they continue to bring offerings in the Second Temple, when no one was interested in idol worship anymore? The same question applies nowadays. We have many shortcomings, but we do not have an evil inclination to serve idols, so why will we have to bring offerings again in the Third Temple?

Cain, Abel and Noah

Similarly, the Ramban (Vayikra 1:9) points out that there were no idol worshippers in the world when Cain and Abel brought their offerings as mentioned last week. And after the Flood, the Torah relates (Bereishis 8:20) how Noah, whose family were the only survivors, took from the pure animals and offered them on the altar that he had built.

Repent and live

The Ramban therefore reveals another dimension of offerings, as explained by the Ibn Ezra. From a strict point of view, the person who commits a sin should lose the right to live further. G'd blesses us with life every moment, and when one sins one takes the gift of life and uses it to go against the will of G'd. However, G'd in his great mercy does not follow the strict letter of the law, and for a long time gives us one chance after another. As the Prophet Ezekiel says (18:32): "For I do not want the death of the sinner, says HASHEM G'd, and you shall repent and live."

Akeidah

After the Akeidah, when G'd sent an angel to explain to Abraham that G'd never intended that Abraham should sacrifice Isaac as an offering, it says (Bereishis 22:13): "And Abraham raised his eyes and saw and behold there was a ram and he brought it as an offering instead of his son." Rashi quotes from the Midrash Rabbah (56:9) that every act Abraham did with the offering was accompanied by a prayer that G'd should accept it as if Abraham did this to Isaac. This, says the Ibn Ezra, is the rationale behind every offering that one brings.

Atonement

All offerings entail an aspect of atonement for transgressions and shortcomings, whether committed by an individual or the whole community. Most acts, says the Ibn Ezra, develop through three stages: (1) a thought; (2) the spoken word; and finally (3) the actual act. When one burns the innards and the kidneys it corresponds to the cravings and thoughts that brought the person to sin. At the time of bringing the offering, one has to confess verbally for the sin. This corresponds to the discussions the person had in connection with the sin. And before slaughtering the animal, the one who brings the offering must lean on the animal's head with both hands. This corresponds to the sinful act itself. In this way, the person who brings the offering goes through similar stages to achieve atonement that were used in committing the sin.

"Animal instead of me"

When the limbs of the animal are put on the alter, the person bringing the offering should think that this should really be happening to him. The same thoughts should go through his mind when the blood is sprinkled and the parts are consumed by the fire on the altar: "Only due to the great mercy of G'd do I achieve atonement by bringing an animal instead of sacrificing myself."

Korban explained

The Ramban continues with a deep Kabbalistic explanation and he concludes by saying that the Hebrew word for offering, "korban", is from the root of "karev" which means to bring close and unify. G'd willing, we shall attempt to clarify this next week.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

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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