To the modern mind, korbanos may seem foreign or hard to understand. Yet they were a key component of the service of Hashem.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains that offerings served many purposes, including a primary purpose of expressing thanks to Hashem. Thus, following the book of Exodus comes the book dealing with sacrifices as an expression of thanks for the deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
“A man, when he offers…” (1:2).
Although many matters are taught in this book of Vayikra, the first and therefore most conspicuous subject is the korbanos. This had been foretold: “We shall go…and we shall sacrifice to Hashem our G-d” (Shemos 3:18); also “Send out My son and he shall serve Me” (ibid. 4:23), “and we shall sacrifice to Hashem our G-d” (ibid. 5:3), and “go sacrifice to your G-d” (ibid. 8:21).
The first service of Hashem in the form of korbanos was actually performed by the Pesach-sacrifice in Egypt, and the first national achievement after the giving of the Torah was the Mishkan where they would serve Hashem with offerings. We learn therefore the principle that after being delivered from affliction or from peril, the first reaction should be to bring offerings to Hashem.
Even before, it is proper to make vows to sacrifice to Hashem. “I beseech You, I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving.… I shall pay my vows unto Hashem” (Tehillim 116:16-17). Sefer Vayikra, therefore, which follows Sefer Shemos (which contains the entire narrative of the Exodus from Egypt), properly begins with the outstanding subject of sacrifices to Hashem.
Although the korbanos have many purposes and many lessons, the first of all the intentions is the expression of gratitude; and the foremost is the gratitude for the Exodus from Egypt. Thus Noach offered sacrifices when he survived the Flood (Bereishis 8:20), and Jacob (ibid. 28:20) vowed offerings for his deliverance from adversity.
Before beginning on the subject of sacrifices, mention must be made of the opinion of the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:32). He declares that because at that time men were accustomed to the practice of sacrificing to images, Hashem’s plan was to substitute sacrifices to the true G-d in the place of the idolatry of the nations: “He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of creatures or of imaginary things.”
But once these sacrifices to Hashem have become Torah, they remain Torah forever, even after all the nations have discontinued the practice of sacrifices. It thus becomes included in the principle: “The Holy One, blessed is He, desired to bestow merit on Israel; therefore He increased for them Torah and mitzvos” (Makos 23b).
But even without the Rambam’s explanation (or in addition to his explanation) there are important and eternal lessons to be gained from the korbanos, and that the practice of these commandments bestowed excellence of intellect and character on our nation. Thus the loss of the Sanctuary was not only the loss of the many mitzvos which the sacrifices provided, but it was also a loss of great opportunities for perfection of mind and character available because of the Beis HaMikdash.
But the impression the service of the Sanctuary created in the minds and souls of the nation never went lost, and continues forever as part of the national heritage. The words of the Torah that describe the Sanctuary service continue forever to be read and studied, and thus our nation gains part of the benefits the Avodah was intended to provide.
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.
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