It is difficult for us to understand why the Torah spends so much time detailing korbanos, something that has not been practiced for almost 2,000 years. This week’s parsha is the central address for the subject and in our haftarah, Yeshaya HaNavi rebukes Klal Yisrael for not carrying out their responsibilities of korbanos properly.
In order to begin to appreciate the purpose of korbanos, let me share thoughts from my rebbe, Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisrael, Baltimore:
Feeling that we are living a full life without a Beis HaMikdash or korbanos damages our relationship with our Creator. If we accept this as a normal way of living, to live without G-d’s face turned to us, to live without the ability to bring a korbon, then will we really long to bring sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash when Moshiach comes? Somehow it seems as if the way we live today is so right. It doesn’t make sense that there will come a time when we will once again bring animals to the Beis HaMikdash to be slaughtered and brought as korbanos. If we are honest, we would have to admit that many of us believe korbanos aren’t really that necessary.
We have lost the sense of commitment to Hashem Yisborach, to the avodah, which can only be completely filled by bringing korbanos; we have lost the idea of what it is to give ourselves to Hashem with totality and completeness. Bringing a korban, shedding its blood and then having it burned on the Mizbayach, symbolized that we were ready to sacrifice our bodies, our blood, our lives on His altar for His sake.
We’ve lost the ability to yearn for a physical expression of our need for G-d and the radical difference that need makes in our daily lives when it exists. We have lost the understanding of what the difference bringing a korban once a year made on the other 364 days. The knowledge that we have the opportunity, the desire and the wish lifts us up. The Heavens open for us in ways we can’t imagine today. It was a different form of existence.
To recognize that the loss of the Beis HaMikdash is really something significant, that we suffer every minute of our lives from that loss, is an absolute necessity to keep our sanity as Jews. To know what it is to be an “oveid Hashem,” to know our G-d and to relate to Him. That is why we must mourn and fast on the days of tragedy and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple; we need to recognize that we live an incomplete life, that we are lacking the basic necessities for living as Jews, even as human beings.
The tremendous loss of kedusha, of the awareness of the Ribono Shel Olam and His relationship to mankind, is responsible for all the terror and tragedy that has taken place since the Churban. None of the horrors that we have experienced for generations could have taken place in the same way if the Beis HaMikdash were still standing. Its loss leaves us without the essential element we need to maintain ourselves as a nation.
But there is a loss that goes deeper that we have to be constantly aware of. It isn’t only that we don’t have a Beis HaMikdash, that we can’t bring korbanos, that we do not have that intimacy with Hashem – losses that we should be feeling on a regular basis and that should leave us in a constant state of pain. The deeper loss is how we accept being in galus as if this was normal and not a catastrophic tragedy.
A man who really loves his wife does not simply tell her that he loves her. He feels compelled to buy her flowers or chocolates to express his love and to give something of his essence to her. This is how it should be with relating to G-d as well. Of course, we realize that we can never give anything to an Omnipotent Infinite Power – Hashem doesn’t need our sacrifices for His sake. Rather, we as humans have a need to relate to Him and that need should be fulfilled through the vehicle of sacrifices. Because we are physical beings, we are driven to show our love and passion for G-d in some physical form. And this drive to give of oneself to Hashem is so powerful that it must be displayed in an ultimate sense.
I want to give my entire existence, my whole life to G-d. I express this by offering my animal’s life. As many have pointed out, this is why the word for sacrifice in Hebrew is korban, meaning closeness. The minute we would truly feel G-d’s reality, we became overwhelmed with an enthusiasm to worship and offer Him a sacrifice.