Join us each week as we journey across the United States and gather words of Torah from rabbanim representing each of the fifty sates. This week we are pleased to feature divrei Torah from Rabbi Hyim Shafner of St. Louis, Missouri.
The book of the Torah that we begin this Shabbos, Vayikra, is also known as Toras Kohanim, the instruction for the Kohanim regarding korbanos in the Mishkan. For most Jews today bringing animal or other sacrifices would feel foreign. Though we may have learned about their details in depth and read about them in our prayers, killing animals, sprinkling their blood, and burning them on an altar feels kind of “unJewish.”
In the writings of the Rambam we find mixed messages in regard to korbanos and the avodah in the Beis HaMikdash. He famously writes the following in Moreh Nivuchim, Guide for the Perplexed (3:32):
“It is impossible for people to go suddenly from one extreme to another. It is impossible according to man’s nature to suddenly discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed. Now God sent Moshe to make the Israelites a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Shemos 19:6) by means of the knowledge of G-d, and are commanded to devote themselves to His service, as it says, ‘And to serve him with all your heart’ (ibid. 11:13).
“But the custom which was common in those days among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted of sacrificing animals in temples which contained images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God that He did not command us to give up all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that which he is used to…
“For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of idols, and commanded us to serve Him in that same manner; to build unto Him a temple, as it says, ‘And they shall make unto me a sanctuary’ (Shemos 25:8) and to offer sacrifices to Him.
“By this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established; this result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them.”
The Rambam here sees sacrifices as something that were given to Bnei Yisrael, not because it was truly the way G-d wanted us to serve Him, but in order to wean us away from idolatrous services without asking us to do something so radical as give up those modes of worship we were accustomed to in Egypt.
The obvious conclusion from this passage is that when the third Beis HaMikdash is built, since we, unlike the Jews who left Egypt, would not have the need for sacrifices, they would apparently not be part of the service.
On the other hand, the Rambam writes the following at the end of the Yad Hachazaka, his book of Jewish law: “The messianic king will return the kingship of David to its position, rebuild the Temple, gather in the scattered Jewish people, reinstate the laws as they were in the past, and bring sacrifices…” (Laws of Kings 11:1).
In light of this contradiction some have written that the Rambam was mistaken, or that someone else actually wrote some of his books. I would like to suggest instead that both sides of his view on korbanos are true. Truly deep things are almost always multifaceted, by their very nature dialectic. For instance, a G-d that is infinite but also personal, prayer which is solitary but also communal and so too perhaps korbanos as what G-d wants and yet also not what G-d wants.