Parshas Vayikra – Are We Sharing Our Table with G-d?

With this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayikra, we open up the third book of Torah, Sefer Vayikra.  Sefer Vayikra begins with the command to Moshe regarding various korbanos (usually translated as offerings or sacrifices).  The commentators differ in their opinions as to what is the purpose of korbanos, and how they help us achieve atonement, purification and cleansing.  While the practice of korbanos has not been in place since Churban Bayis Sheni (the destruction of the second Temple), there are still many relevant lessons to be learned from this ancient practice.

The Ramban (Vayikra 1:9) explains that the animal being offered is taking the place of the man who sinned, for G-d, with His Infinite Mercy, takes a substitute instead of the sinner, while the Rambam (quoted ibid) maintains the korbanos are meant to root out idolatrous practices from the world. 

R’ S. R. Hirsch (Vayikra 1:2) explains that the korbanos can only be understood based on the root of the Hebrew word, which is ק.ר.ב – to come close.  The makriv, the one bringing the korban, desires to come close to G-d in His service in the Sanctuary. 

With a different perspective and beautiful interpretation, R’ Shmuel Goldin teaches, “Perhaps the most telling aspect of the Torah’s sacrificial rite is the most obvious: the vast majority of korbanos are simply not ‘sacrifices’ in the commonly accepted sense.  With singular exceptions (such as the Olah – burnt offering), portions of every korban are designated as food for the Kohanim, their dependents and/or the individuals bringing the offering to the Temple.

“Even more, the very first obligatory korban recorded in the Torah, the Korban Pesach of the Exodus, was, in its entirety, a family meal.  No altar was present, no Temple service involved.   The Israelites were, instead, commanded to physically consume the Korban Pesach within the sanctity of their homes.   

“What then, defines the Korban Pesach as a korban (in the traditional sense that we understand korbanos as ‘offerings to G-d’)?  Why were portions of so many later korbanos designated as food?  Shouldn’t each korban have been a true offering to G-d, consumed entirely in flames upon the altar?

“We are forced, it would seem, to reexamine our understanding of korbanos.  In contrast to classical ‘sacrifices,’ consumed entirely on the altar, korbanos were, in large measure, shared meals with G-d.  Faced with the naturally developing distance between man and his Creator, forced to address the separation from G-d that results from sin, the Torah proposes a path, astoundingly profound in its simplicity: invite G-d to your table.

“A korban, deriving from the root word ק.ר.ב, ‘to draw near,’ is the mechanism through which an individual can begin to repair and reestablish his relationship with a personal G-d.  Just as, in the human realm, a shared meal is a powerful relationship tool, so too, a meal consumed with G-d’s symbolic participation can begin to address His estrangement from our lives (resulting from our sins)…

“With each korban, G-d’s presence as an invited, honored guest was palpable and concrete.  To the participants, these observances were far from meaningless rituals.  They were, instead, shared meals with G-d, the first steps back to a fuller awareness of the Divine in their lives” (All italics in the original.  Unlocking The Torah Text, Vayikra, p.10-11).

While it is true that today we do not have korbanos, we set many a table for Shabbos and Yom Tov, and for the orchim (guests) who grace our homes.  And we have to ask ourselves: When we bedeck the table with the dishes, cutlery and stemware, with the linens and flowers, the gourmet food and drink, with the breads and desserts… Do we remember to set a place for the Master of All?  Do we welcome Hashem into our homes and invite Him, keviyachol (as if it were possible), to share our meals and our lives?  Do we elevate the base gashmius of the meal into a mitzvah and a ruchniyus (spiritual) experience, by being aware of the One Whom is waiting to be welcomed into our homes? 

A talmid of R’ Mosheh Twersky zt’l HY”D related that: It was a Friday night at Rebbi’s house and we were waiting for him to arrive.  The Rebbetzin came out of the kitchen and started speaking to us really quickly.  This is what she told us:

“We had some painting done in the house this week, and all the furniture in the living room had been pushed to the center of the room and draped.  The painters haven’t yet finished the job and it felt like too much work to uncover and move all the furniture back in place for Shabbos, so we decided to just leave it.  When my husband (R’ Twersky) returned home this afternoon, he asked what was going to be with the furniture for Shabbos, and I told him that it was too much work to move all the furniture back, so we’d just eat in the kitchen for this Shabbos.

“He didn’t say anything, but as soon as I got back to my Shabbos preparations, I realized that he was uncovering and moving all the furniture back to its proper place in honor of Shabbos.  When we tried to help, he absolutely refused and insisted on doing it himself, saying, ‘It’s my kavod Shabbos, it’s my kavod Shabbos (honoring Shabbos).  Let me do it.’”  Just as the Rebetzin finished speaking, Rebbi walked in with his usual, enthusiastic ‘good Shabbos’ greeting… (A Malach in Our Midst, p.184-185).

Chazal teach (Menachos 97a): בזמן שבית המקדש קיים מזבח מכפר על אדם ועכשיו שאין בית המקדש קיים שולחנו של אדם מכפר עליו – When the Beis HaMikdash stood, the mizbayach (the altar and its korbanos) atoned for man, and now that the BHM”K no longer stands, one’s table brings atonement for him. 

Our tables today are our proverbial korbanos.   And we take care to set our tables with delicacies galore and welcome family and friend into our homes (as we rightly should)… But do we honor Hashem in our homes, at our tables, and in our lives, and do we set a proverbial place for Him to partake of our meal?

For when we do so, even today when the BHM”K no longer stands R”L, we will surely merit to be a makriv, one who comes close to Hashem in all areas of life. 

בברכת שבת שלום,


1 Comment
  • S. Goldstein
    Posted at 17:05h, 14 March

    Beautiful, meaningful insights. Thank you so much!