web analytics
January 29, 2015 / 9 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Reconciliation vs. Vengeance

Judaism is less a philosophical system than a field of tensions – between universalism and particularism, for example, or exile and redemption, priests and prophets, cyclical and linear time, and so on. Rarely is this more in evidence than in the conflicting statements within Judaism about sacrifices, and nowhere more sharply than in the juxtaposition between the sedrah of Tzav, which contains a series of commands about sacrifice, and the passage from the book of Jeremiah that is usually (not this year) its Haftarah:

“When I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: ‘Obey me, and I will be your G-d and you will be My people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you’ ” (Jeremiah 7:22-23).

Commentators have been puzzled by the glaring contradiction between these words and the obvious fact that G-d did command the Israelites about sacrifices after bringing them out of Egypt. Several solutions have been offered. According to Maimonides, the sacrifices were a means, not an end, to the service of G-d. Radak argues that sacrifices were not the first of G-d’s commands after the Exodus; instead, civil laws were. Abarbanel goes so far as to say that initially G-d had not intended to give the Israelites a code of sacrifice, and did so only after the sin of the Golden Calf. The sacrifices were an antidote to the Israelites’ tendency to rebel against G-d.

The simplest explanation is to note that the Hebrew word “lo” does not invariably mean “not”; sometimes it means “not only” or “not just.” According to this, Jeremiah is not saying that G-d did not command sacrifices. He did, but they were not the sole or even most important element of the religious life. The common denominator of the prophetic critique of sacrifices is not opposition to them as such, but rather an insistence that acts directed to G-d must never dull our sense of duty to mankind. Micah gave this idea one of its most famous expressions:

With what shall I come before the Lord
And bow down before the exalted G-d? …
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
With ten thousand rivers of oil? …
He has shown you, O man, what is good.
What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your G-d (Micah 6:6-8).

Yet the question remains: Why sacrifices? To be sure, they have not been part of the life of Judaism since the destruction of the Second Temple, almost 2,000 years ago. But why, if they are a means to an end, did G-d choose this end? This is, of course, one of the deepest questions in Judaism, and there are many answers. Here I want to explore just one, first given by the early fifteenth-century Jewish thinker Rabbi Joseph Albo in his Sefer HaIkkarim.

Here’s Rabbi Albo’s theory: Killing animals for food is inherently wrong. It involves taking the life of a sentient being to satisfy our needs. In Genesis, for example, Cain knew this. He believed there was a strong kinship between man and the animals. That is why he offered not an animal sacrifice, but a vegetable one. Abel, by contrast, believed that there was a qualitative difference between man and the animals. Had G-d not told the first humans, “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves in the ground”? That is why he brought an animal sacrifice. Once Cain saw that Abel’s sacrifice had been accepted while his own was not, he reasoned thus: If G-d (who forbids us to kill animals for food) permits and even favors killing an animal as a sacrifice, and if (as Cain believed) there is no ultimate difference between human beings and animals, then I shall offer the very highest living being as a sacrifice to G-d – namely my brother Abel. Cain killed Abel not out of envy or animosity but as a human sacrifice.

That is why G-d permitted the eating of meat after the Flood. Before the Flood, the world had been “filled with violence.” Perhaps violence is an inherent part of human nature. If there were to be a humanity at all, G-d would have to lower his demands of mankind. Let them kill animals, He said, rather than kill human beings – the one form of life that is not only G-d’s creation but also G-d’s image. Hence the otherwise almost unintelligible sequence of verses after Noah and his family emerge on dry land:

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Reconciliation vs. Vengeance”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
ISIS murderers threatening Obama
ISIS: We Will Behead Obama, Make US Part of the Caliphate [video]
Latest Judaism Stories
Business-Halacha-logo

“How could you have expected my glasses to be there?” argued Mr. Weiss. “You shouldn’t have to pay.”

Taste-of-Lomdus-logo

Rather than submit to this fate and suffer torture and humiliation, Shaul decided to fall on his sword.

The-Shmuz

How can the Da’as Zekeinim say this was Hashem’s plan to allow them to become the Torah Nation? We know it was actually a punishment.

index

A strange midrash of fruit trees surrounding the Nation of Israel as they walked to freedom

Leading by example must be visible, regarding where, when and how-like Nachshon entering the Red Sea

Rabbi Yaakov Nagen, a Ram at Yeshivat Otniel, notes that the verse is suggesting that retelling the story of the Exodus is so important that Hashem is performing ever-greater miracles specifically so that parents can tell their stories to future generations.

Before performing the 10th plague God makes a fundamental argument about the ultimate nature of justice.

Life Before The Printed Word
‘A Revi’is Of Blood’
(Yevamos 114a-b)

How is it possible that the clothing was more valuable to them than gold or silver?

Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.

M. Goldman
(Via E-mail)

“It means that the disqualification of relatives as witnesses is a procedural issue, not a question of honesty,” explained Rabbi Dayan.

Property ownership is an extremely important and fundamental right and principle according to the Torah.

The tenderest description of the husband/wife relationship is “re’im v’ahuvim/loving, kind friends”

And if a person can take steps to perform the mitzvah, he should do so (even if he won’t be held accountable for not performing it due to circumstances beyond his control).

Suddenly, she turns to me and says, “B’emet, I need to thank you, you made me excited to come back to Israel.”

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Pharaoh perverted symbols of life (the Nile and midwives) into agents of death.

Rabbi Sacks

The 5th cup is supported by a 5th expression of Deliverance: “And I will bring you to the land…”

The first recorded instance of civil disobedience is the story of Shifra and Puah, defying Pharaoh

Truthfulness is a fundamental value in Jewish yet truth isn’t its highest value. Peace is. Why so?

Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh had nothing to do with age and everything to do with names

Tamar’s conduct bears an uncanny resemblance to Ruth’s; virtuous outsiders at the margins of society

A Jew is an iconoclast, born to challenge the idols of the age,whatever the idols, whatever the age.

Simply too many cases of prayers being answered to deny it makes a difference to our fate. It does.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/reconciliation-vs-vengeance/2013/03/20/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: