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In the Torah portions leading up to Vayikra, the Tabernacle was built by Israel, giving from the heart. The entire Book of Vayikra is called Torat Kohanim (Laws of the Priests) which reflects the focus of the book on the commandments and rituals pertaining to the Kohanim and their service in the Mishkan and later in the Holy Temple. Parashat Vayikra (Lev. 1:1–5:26)contains detailed instructions for various sacrifices, purity laws, and other rituals that are central to Israel's worship of the Creator.

For some, the idea of animals being slaughtered in tandem with worshiping HaShem is deeply troubling—even by some in the Jewish community. Many likely wonder why the opening parsha in Vayikra—a book regarded as the heart of the Torah—endorses the death of innocent animals.

That is one of the reasons the subject of the Korbanot begins the Book of Vayikra.

The placement of instructions for animal offerings at the beginning of Vayikra demonstrates that the Creator not only sanctions the practice but when done properly, and with the correct mindset, considers it a, “sweet smelling savor.”

Lest we forget, the root of the word korban (kaf-resh-va) means to draw near.

G-d instructed Israel and the kohanim on the system of Korbanot to elevate the animals, plants and minerals of our planet and to bless them. More importantly the offerings serve to draw an important distinction between the value of human life versus the life of an animal. In bringing an offering, we acknowledge that humans have a higher purpose than animals, even on a soul level. The act of bringing an offering requires that one reflect on their intent, and it requires a sense of responsibility, qualities that set humans apart from animals.

On a cosmic level, the system of Korbanot is a model for the constant cycle of giving: The elements, whether animal, plant or mineral are consumed and their life-giving properties ascend with the purpose of sustaining the life of everything on planet. We benefit from this exchange but then we change the equation in a vital way—instead of being consumed—we can choose to offer our lives in service to God and humanity. Giving brought the Tabernacle into existence. The act of Giving brought the universe

into existence and the system of Korbanot is the mechanism that sustains it.

By appointing the Levites to oversee the Korbanot, God emphasized the importance of having knowledgeable individuals responsible for the Israel’s sacred rituals. Their service in the Tabernacle and Temple was a way to sanctify the tribe of Levi and demonstrate the significance of their role in facilitating the spiritual connection between the nation of Israel and God--through the offerings brought to the altar. Specifically, the Kohanim, the descendants of Aaron were designated by God to oversee the Korbanot. Additionally, Leviticus 1:5 teaches that the individual bringing the sacrifice was to lay their hand upon the animal's head, then they were required to kill the animal. It’s important to note that the participation of the one bringing the offering is essential for atonement, however, they can ask the kohen for assistance or supervision, to ensure each step is done correctly. The Talmud (Zevachim 32a) further clarifies, citing Numbers 18:7: “And you and your sons with you shall keep your priesthood in everything that pertains to the altar”

After the destruction of the Second Temple, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, ruled that the Jewish People should substitute the prayers for the korbanot. This ruling is consistent with Hosea 14:3, "Let our lips substitute for bulls." Also, see Tractate Zevachim 107b, in the Talmud. Acceptance by the Jewish community confirmed prayer as a replacement for korbanot in the post-Temple era.

Those who object to ritual animal offerings, sanctioned for the Mishkan and later the Temple, might find themselves doubting the words of Torah, which brings us to the Haftarah: (Samuel I 15:1-34) which tells of King Saul defeating Amalek but allowing their king, Agag, to live long enough to father the ancestor of Haman, the anti-Semite who attempted to annihilate the Jews of ancient Persia. The spirit of Haman's ancestor, Amalek, was embedded deeply with him, fueling Haman's hatred for the Jewish People. He was among those who sought to cast doubt on HaShem's power, even advising Achashverosh that the G-d of Israel "was asleep". It's no wonder then, that the gematria for the name Amalek is 240, which is also the gematria for the Hebrew word safek, meaning "doubt". Though this descendant of Amalek would seek to wipe out the Jewish People, his plot was foiled by Esther and Mordechai. Like their ancestor, King Saul, they were from the tribe of Benjamin. The connections to Purim are undeniable.

The modern, murderous spirit of Amalek continues to traffic in doubt.

Amalek is dangerously alive and thriving in Iran, the modern iteration of Persia. Iran exports terror and antisemitism thorough her proxies, including Hamas and frighteningly, through the unthinking hordes around the globe, infected with a strain of antisemitism not seen since the Holocaust. This spirit of Amalek seeks to spread doubt regarding Israel's role: the nation, chosen by the Creator to be a light to the nations. Amalek wants to blot out the Jewish People, but the Creator says, "When the Lord, your G-d gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!" (Deut. 25:19)

The esteemed Rav Kook, of blessed memory, stated that a person’s abhorrence to animals offerings in the Temple veers very close to hypocrisy, considering that it is completely acceptable to slaughter animals for food and clothing, yet we shouldn’t use those same creatures as korbanot, demonstrating our gratitude to G-d and our desire to draw near to Him?

The sages suggest that, sometime in the future, the korbanot will only consist of grain offerings. But that will only come when humanity has finally decided that we no longer need animals for our physical needs. It would seem that, given the invention of synthetics for every application, we are getting closer to that day.

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1 Comment

Mar 23

Thank you Jim for your wonderful insides. Being a vegan I have struggled for a long time with these parahas (strangely Tzav is my birth parasha) and the idea of the animal offerings. Loved the paragraph on the Hypocrisy - the way animals are slaughtered for food is barbaric ( unless it is done the kosher way) at least in the temple the Kohanim knew what they were doing first time I realised this...

And naturally I loved the part of the prospect that offerings being only grain in the future! This put my mind at ease.

Thanks gain for sharing your amazing knowledge. Shalom and Blessings

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