Question: What is the purpose of reciting korbanot in the morning?
Answer: The Gemara states that whoever reads the passages concerning korbanot is reckoned as if he actually brought a korban.
The Mishnah Berurah writes (Orach Chayim 48:1) that this means “studying in order to understand the details involved in the sacrifice and not merely saying the words.” Without understanding what the Hebrew words mean, a person does not receive the zechut of being deemed as if he brought a sacrifice. There is no reward for merely reciting korbanot.
The Aruch Hashulchan, however, takes a different approach. He states (Orach Chayim 48:1) that “whenever the relevant passages are read, it is deemed as if a sacrifice was brought.” At no point does he even suggest that it is necessary to study or comprehend the meaning of the sacrificial passages.
The disagreement between the Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch Hashulchan may stem from the following: The Magen Avraham points out (Orach Chayim 50:2) that there is a major difference between the mitzvah of studying Torah and davening. Torah must be understood. If it is not understood, there is no mitzvah of Talmud Torah. Prayer on the other hand, is valid even without comprehension. As long as the general intention is proper – as long as one has kavanah – understanding is not essential because Hashem knows the true intentions of the person who is praying.
The Mishnah Berurah perhaps maintains that saying korbanot is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah and by doing that mitzvah one receives the reward of having actually brought a korban. Since it is the mitzvah of Talmud Torah that we’re talking about, a person must truly understand the passage. If he doesn’t, he perhaps need not to say it.
The Aruch Hashulchan, however, possibly maintains that reciting korbanot is a form of davening and therefore doesn’t require understanding. Accordingly, as long as a person has the proper general intentions, he reaps the benefits even without understanding what he’s saying.
Regardless of the rationale for the different views, it is apparent that according to the Mishnah Berurah’s ruling, there is no value in reciting the korbanot passages in the morning without understanding their meaning. The minhag ha’olam, however, doesn’t seem to conform to this ruling. It seems to comport more with that of the Aruch Hashulchan.
About the Author: Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of eight sefarim on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer the Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and select Judaica stores.
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