Picture the scene: a man is sitting in the kitchen eating dinner when his wife walks into the room, her face blank and emotionless. Her husband looks up, observes the situation, and kindly asks, “How was your day?”
In a flat monotone, she replies, “Great.”
“Amazing, so glad to hear!” he says enthusiastically, and happily goes back to enjoying his dinner.
While this exact scenario might not have played out in your life, we can all think of numerous situations where people misunderstood us, where there was a complete miscommunication, or where we wished someone could see past the words, past the surface, and feel what we were truly feeling inside. Genuine connection is rare, beautiful, and often elusive.
The Mikdash and Korbanos
The Mishkan accompanied the Jewish People throughout their travels in the midbar and was replaced by the Beis HaMikdash once they entered Eretz Yisrael. A central feature of the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash was the korbanos. These sacrifices were offered daily, in addition to special ones that were offered on Shabbos and holidays, and were the focal point of much of the Jewish People’s religious observance.
The Second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed almost two thousand years ago, marking the end of korbanos and religious life as we knew it. We pray daily for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and a restoration of our close relationship with Hashem. Interestingly though, the Midrash explains that in the times of Mashiach, there will no longer be a need for korbanos. (Vayikra Rabbah 9:7). The Midrash does state one exception, namely, that we will still bring the korban Todah. However, it appears problematic to suggest that “all” the other korbanos will be eliminated, as we daven for the restoration of “temidim k’sidram u’mussafim ke’hilchasam.” One solution to this contradiction is that there will be several stages of Mashiach, and this Midrash is referring to one of these stages, likely a later stage. Another explanation is that this Midrash means that there will be no more sin offerings, because people will not sin in the times of Mashiach, as there will no longer be a yetzer hara (see Sukkah 52a.) This leaves us to wonder: Why were korbanos originally so fundamental, and what will have changed that will render them unnecessary?
Many of us living in the modern world struggle to relate to these archaic concepts of the Mikdash and korbanos, thinking of them as ancient and irrelevant. It can be easy to dismiss this segment of the Torah as the esoteric intermission placed between the more exciting parts of the Torah, but perhaps there is more beneath the surface that can be uncovered. Let us delve into the topics of the Beis HaMikdash and korbanos in order to better understand the depth and beauty of these concepts.
The Mouth and its Three Functions
Chazal explain that the Beis HaMikdash functions as the “mouth” of the world. In order to understand this cryptic comparison, we must analyze the nature of the mouth. On the most basic level, the mouth has three functions. First, the mouth is the organ we use to eat and drink, which nourishes our bodies. Second, the mouth is the organ we use in order to speak and communicate with others. The third function, however, is the strangest of all. Across all continents, ethnicities, and cultures, the universal expression of love is kissing. We are all used to this concept, but if you were an alien from outer space visiting planet earth, and you were asked what the ideal form of affection would be, you might suggest rubbing cheeks or something of the sort. Kissing is simply strange, unsanitary, and illogical!
Fundamentally, though, we must ask a more significant question. While the three functions of the mouth seem to be three completely separate activities, the Maharal explains that whenever an organ performs multiple functions, those functions are all deeply related. If this is true, then how are the three functions of the mouth – eating, speaking, and kissing – connected?
The answer is that all three of these functions are mechanisms of connection. Eating, speaking, and kissing all serve to connect two disparate parts together.
Eating: Connecting Body and Soul
What happens when you don’t eat? You become faint. What happens if you continue without food? You will pass out. And if you still don’t eat, your soul will leave your body and you will die. Eating maintains the connection between your soul and your body; it is what keeps you alive.
There is a paradoxical relationship between the body and soul. Your soul, which is your “self,” your consciousness, your inner being, is transcendent, spiritual, and infinite. You can’t see, touch, or smell your mind or consciousness. You will never see someone else’s inner world. Your body, however, is finite, limited, and physical. Your soul will never die, but your body ages, withers, and will eventually fall apart.
If the soul and body are diametrically opposed, how do they manage to stay connected? One would expect them to repel each other like two opposite sides of a magnet.
This is the deep secret of food. There needs to be something to keep your soul attached to your body, some kind of “glue.” Eating food generates the energy that keeps your neshamah connected to your body. No organism’s soul can remain in its body unless it eats.
This is the depth behind the phrase, “U’mafli laasos – Who performs wonders,” that we recite in Asher Yatzar. What “wonder” are we referring to? Many commentators (such as the Beis Yosef) suggest that it is the wondrous paradox that our soul, infinitely transcendent, remains connected to our bodies, a physical, finite vessel. We mention this specifically after using the bathroom because we have just filtered out the unneeded parts of what we ate or drank, the very means of forging the connection between body and soul.
We therefore thank Hashem specifically at this juncture in time.
We can now understand an aspect of kashrus, Jewish dietary laws. Eating is an incredibly holy act; it connects your neshamah to your body, the spiritual to the physical. It follows that we must eat foods that are spiritually pure!
This sheds light on the concept of fasting as well, especially on the day of Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we attempt to be malachim that transcend the physical world. We therefore fast, allowing our soul to somewhat transcend our body, enabling us to experience one day of living in an angelic state.
Speaking: Act of Connection
In order to understand speech, we must first understand the nature of words themselves. Before we speak or even formulate concrete thoughts and words in our head, we begin with abstract thought that transcends words completely. Speech is the process of encasing your infinite thoughts within limited shells – finite words – that carry the meaning of your inner world and project them outwards for others to experience.
This understanding is fascinatingly expressed in the Hebrew words that are used for the word “word” itself. Davar means a “word,” but it also means a “thing,” because a word is nothing other than limiting your abstract thought into one particular thing. Milah means a word, but it also means to cut, to incise, because a word is cutting down your limitless thought into something finite and real. Teivah means a word, but it also means a box, because a word is our attempt to squeeze our infinite thoughts into a finite box.
We can now understand the nature of speaking. We are separate beings, each living in our own subjective world – our own inner universe. We will never be able to experience life through anyone else’s perspective, only through our own inner consciousness. This results in several difficulties. If I am trapped in my own inner world, how can I connect with other people? How can I know what’s going on inside their heads? How can I share my inner life with them? How can I overcome the infinite barrier between myself and everyone else?
This is the gift of speech. Speech allows us to connect with other people and to overcome the barrier between us. You start with your inner thoughts and experience. You then use your throat, tongue, teeth, and lips to form the specific words that will encase your thoughts as you give them concrete form. In essence, you then throw your words out into the world around you in the form of vibrations. If another person is nearby, their ears can pick up these vibrations and translate them into sound. Those sounds form words, and those words sentences. If they speak your language, those words will take on meaning as well. They must then hold on to the different words and sentences, and bring them back from memory as they work to recreate a complete picture of everything you said. Amazingly, this person can now experience your inner world inside their own mind. The barrier between your worlds has been diminished.
Of course, the most difficult task for the listener is to get past the words to understand what the speaker truly means to say. Words are only casings; the true content is what was originally in the speaker’s mind before they began speaking. The difficult job of the listener is to get as close as possible to the intended meaning. For example, you yourself may use the word “wonderful” to refer to something very different from the person speaking. You mustn’t project yourself onto the words you hear; you must attempt to negate your ego, empathize, put yourself in their head, and attempt to understand what they actually meant to say.
Kissing: Connecting Two People Together
We can now understand why kissing as well is done specifically with the mouth. The mouth is the organ of connection. Kissing reflects the way two people connect when they wish to show each other affection and love. It is only reasonable that kissing, the expression of connection, should be performed by the mouth, the organ of connection.
In our next article, we will delve deeper into this fascinating topic and explain how all three of the mouth’s functions apply to the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash.