Parshas Vayikra: Korbanos and Our Personal Avodas Hashem

With the completion of the Mishkan at the end of Sefer Shemos, where G-d’s Presence rested, symbolized by a Cloud by day and Fire by night (Shemos 40:38), in this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayikra, we move into the mitzvos regarding korbanos with full force.  

Now almost two thousand years removed from the Beis Ha’Mikdash, and exiled from our Land, the ritual of korbanos may be difficult for us to relate to.  And yet, they were a most integral part of our avodas Hashem in Temple Times (think Korban Pesach!), and a way of coming closer (קרבן, קרב) to Hashem.  Though we no longer offer korbanos today – and we daven that one day soon the Beis Ha’Mikdash will be rebuilt where once again the Kohanim and Leviim will officiate – there are still many relevant lessons to be learned from this topic, as obscure as it may seem.  As the Torah is Toras chaim – a living Torah – and its eternal truths contain lessons and messages for every Jew in every generation, it behooves us to explore and examine what we can learn from Korbanos as they relate to our lives.  

The beginning pasukim of Sefer Vayikra tell us: וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־משֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר ה֙אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽרAnd He (G-d) called to Moses, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם אָדָ֗ם כִּי־יַקְרִ֥יב מִכֶּ֛ם קָרְבָּ֖ן לַֽהמִן־הַבְּהֵמָ֗ה מִן־הַבָּקָר֙ וּמִן־הַצֹּ֔אן תַּקְרִ֖יבוּ אֶת־קָרְבַּנְכֶֽםSpeak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to Hashem; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice… יַקְרִ֣יב אֹת֔וֹ לִרְצֹנ֖וֹhe shall offer it of his own will (Vayikra 1:1-3).

Rashi teaches: אדם. לָמָּה נֶאֱמַר? מָה אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן לֹא הִקְרִיב מִן הַגָּזֵל, שֶׁהַכֹּל הָיָה שֶׁלּוֹ, אַף אַתֶּם לֹא תַּקְרִיבוּ מִן הַגָּזֵלWhy does the Torah use the word “adam”, as opposed to the more common “ish”, when describing one who offers a korban?  Just as Adam ha’Rishon (the first man) did not offer anything to G-d from that which was stolen, for all belonged to him, so too, you, do not bring an offering from anything that has been stolen.  

What lesson can we learn from this teaching, in our day and age; what relevance does ‘when a man from (among) you brings an offering to Hashem’ hold for us?

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski zt’l derives foundational elements for our own Avodas Hashem (Divine service) from this passage.  Korban, drawing closer to G-d, requires sincerity and a surrender to G-d of one’s will.

“Rashi says that the Torah uses the word ‘adam’ for person rather than the more frequently used word ‘ish’, and explains its use as meaning that just as Adam didn’t serve G-d with anything acquired dishonestly, because everything in the world belonged to him, so must a person who brings an offering make certain that the offering was acquired honestly.

“There is also another similarity to Adam which is essential for a korban, and that is that one must be sincere in one’s service of G-d and not try to impress others with his piety.  The Talmud uses the expression genevas da’as, which is essentially ‘stealing’ another person’s judgement.  Deceiving others in any way is depriving them of an accurate judgement of reality and is seen as a form of theft.

“Adam did not try to impress anyone with his piety.  There was no one to impress!  This quality of sincerity must accompany a korban, because otherwise it is brought and offered through dishonesty.

“The Torah further specifies that bringing an offering should not be a mere ritual.  Rather, יַקְרִ֣יב אֹת֔וֹ לִרְצֹנ֖וֹhe shall offer it of his own will.  It is not the animal that one must sacrifice, but rather one’s own animal nature.  There is that part of us that craves gratification of our animalistic desires.  That is the will of the body rather than that of the neshama (soul).  The Sages say, ‘Make His will your will’ and ‘Set aside your will before His’ (Ethics of the Fathers 2:4).  Man’s animalistic drives stand as a barrier between man and G-d, and it is subjugating these drives that one allows for the supremacy of the neshama.  Therefore, the essence of the korban is the ‘offering of his will’ to G-d.  

“Thus from the opening verses and teachings of Vayikra, we have all the elements necessary for a relationship with G-d: humility, an awareness of one’s Divine neshama, sincerity, and a subjugation of one’s personal drives before the will of G-d” (Twerski on Chumash, p.194-195).

While the Beis Ha’Mikdash stands no longer, and today the practice and concept of animal sacrifices is far removed from our way of life, we learn from Korbanos how we too must serve Hashem.  The necessary ingredients for coming close (קרבן, קרב) to G-d are: humility and piety in how we live our lives, an appreciation of the pure Divine soul that lies within each and every one of us, and bowing our will before G-d’s will.  When we strive for, and embrace, these traits and way of life, we will (metaphysically) offer our very selves to G-d, as we come closer to Him, and His children, our fellow Jews.

About his grandfather, the Gaon Rav Chaim Brisker zt’l, Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik zt’l relates, “Gedolei Yisroel (the leaders of Israel) represented spirituality, refinement in conduct, sensitivity, sympathy, compassion.  As far as chessed is concerned, there was no greater ba’al chesed than Rav Chaim Brisker.  As a matter of fact, on R’ Chaim’s tombstone, in accordance with his tzava’ah, his testament, (he) said that no attributes and no to’arim should be engraved.  But my father (Rav Moshe) and my uncle (the Griz), zichronam li’vracha, insisted that one to’ar, one attributed be mentioned, not ga’on or Rash Ke’bahag (rosh kol b’nei ha’gola – the leader of the exiled), no, only ‘Rav Chesed.’  R’ Chaim ben R’ Yosef Dov Ha’Levi, Rav Chessed.  In my opinion, in his chesed personality, he towered above his intellectual personality, no matter how great he was intellectually” (The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha, Shemos, p.173-174).

As we begin our journey through the book of Vayikra and we learn of rituals and services that seem so far removed from our lives, let us remember that every letter, word and topic in Torah is of eternal relevance.  For even in our day and time, korbanos teach us the secrets of coming close to G-d, so that we may live a meaningful, connected and fulfilling life as ovdei Hashem.  

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 

Michal

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