I cannot believe my eyes! Am I really standing in the Bais HaMikdash? Yes, right in front of me is the mizbeyach and the pillar of smoke rising straight up to the sky. I turn around and see rows of leviim saying Shira and playing instruments. Now I am standing in the magnificent entrance to the Heichal. I look up and see two massive pillars towering above me. Inside I see the mizbeyach haketores, the menorah, and the shulchan. Am I dreaming? No, I am experiencing a fascinating VR (virtual reality) visit to the Bais HaMikdash and I highly recommend it! (Visit www.mikdashvr.com for more info.)
The truth is that even though the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed, to a certain extent we still enter the Mikdash and offer korbanos every day without VR technology. Chazal tell us that each time we daven Shemoneh Esrei it is as if we are actually offering a korban in the Bais HaMikdash.
The mishna in Avos states (1:2) that the world stands upon three pillars: Torah, avodah, servitude in the Bais HaMikdash, and gemilas chasadim, kind deeds. Rabbeinu Yonah (ad. loc.) explains that the mishna means that Hashem created the world for the sake of these three things, and its existence depends on them. This being the case, the question arises: Since we have not had the Bais HaMikdash for close to 2000 years, how does the world continue to exist?
Rabbeinu Yonah addresses this issue and says that tefillah is also “avodah,” as Chazal refer to it as “servitude of the heart.” Indeed, the Gemara (Brachos 26b) says that Shacharis corresponds to the morning tamid, Mincha to the afternoon tamid, and Ma’ariv to the burning of the fats on the mizbeyach. This is not just a symbolic correlation – these tefillos actually take the place of those korbanos. In other words, tefillah is one of the three reasons for the world’s creation! But why is this so? How does tefillah takes the place of offering korbanos?
Let us start by explaining why these three matters are the world’s raison d’être. Hashem created this world so that we can come close to Him and thus merit the eternal and complete closeness of the World to Come. When we learn and heed the commands of the Torah we connect to Hashem by working to understand what He has revealed to us in the Torah. Hashem constantly bestows kindness upon the world, so when we follow in His footsteps and perform good deeds for our fellow man, we also connect to Him in a strong manner. But why is avodah so important? True, the atonement one receives by offering korbanos saves him from terrible punishment, but why does that make it one of the purposes of creation?
I Belong To Hashem!
The seforim explain that when a person brings a korban he proclaims that he totally belongs to Hashem, just like a slave who is owned by his owner. Sacrificing an animal does not just show that all of a person’s possessions belong to Hashem – it is as if he is offering the animal’s soul instead of his own. In fact, the idea behind all that was done in the Mikdash was to show that the entire universe belongs to Hashem. For example, we know that the world can be divided into four categories, and when a korban is offered, all are involved. The mizbeyach is domem, an inanimate object. The wood is tzomeyach, a matter that grew. The animal is chai – a living object. The kohen offering it is a medaber – one who speaks. Every aspect of the creation was made to serve Hashem!
The Bais Yosef (C.M. 1) writes that the avodah was so important because through it Hashem dwelled among us and gave us divine protection. When a person offers a korban he gives his very essence to Hashem and declares that he belongs to Him. Once all the barriers between Hashem and himself have been broken, he merits an extreme closeness and feeling of security; the security of being totally in Hashem’s Hands. As a result, Hashem’s presence among Klal Yisroel could be felt and seen by the entire world. This was the supreme fulfillment of the purpose of creation.
The Maharal writes (Nesivos Ha’avodah chapter 3) that now that we do not have the ability to sacrifice korbanos, tefillah takes its place. By turning to Hashem and asking Him in detail for every single one of our needs, be it large or small, we declare that without Him we have nothing. In addition, we express our thanks for what we already received, which further strengthens this awareness. The result is the same as the korbanos – that we give our entire lives over to the creator of the world. Through the closeness to Hashem that we feel when we daven we are holding up the entire universe!
Shemoneh Esrei = Avodah
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 98:4) writes that there are many comparisons between tefillah and offering korbanos: 1) Just as the kohen must take great care to avoid having the wrong thought while doing the avodah, so too, when we daven, we must ensure that no foreign thoughts enter our mind. 2) Just as a kohen must stand while performing the avodah, one must stand during Shemoneh Esrei. 3) Just as every korban has a specific spot where it is slaughtered and where its blood is thrown on the mizbeyach, so too one must designate a specific spot to daven all his tefillos. 4) When a person davens, ideally nothing should be between him and the wall. This is similar to the halacha that it is forbidden to have a separation between the kohen and the vessel used to catch the blood. 5) The Shulchan Aruch adds that it is a nice idea to have special, respectable clothing for tefillah, just as the kohanim wore priestly garments. (One who wears a gartel or a hat and jacket when he davens can have this in mind. A woman can think about this when putting on a robe or clean garment before she davens.) 6) The Shulchan Aruch rules (O.C. 94:1) that one is supposed to imagine that he is standing in the Bais HaMikdash when he is praying Shemoneh Esrei. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that since when we daven we are offering a korban, we must picture ourselves in the place where korbanos are brought.
Rabbeinu Yonah says that when we say the verse, “Hashem, sefasi tiftach – Hashem, open my lips” before we pray, we are saying that since we cannot offer korbanos, Hashem should accept this tefillah instead. The commentators also write that this is why after all the brachos of supplication we say the bracha of Retzeih. There we ask Hashem to be appeased by our tefillos which are instead of a korban, and to bring back the actual korbanos, which will bring us phenomenally closer to Him!
Finally, the Poskim say that even if one does not have time to say all the korbanos printed in the siddur, he should at least say Parshas Hatamid, which is considered on a certain level to be as if he actually offered it.
This realization, that when we daven it is as if we are offering a korban, will hopefully elevate our tefillos to such a high level that we will soon merit to see the return of the Bais HaMikdash and to offer real korbanos!