In this study I would like to examine the Torah method for drawing near to HaShem. In Hebrew there is no direct translation for the English word, offering or sacrifice. The closest approximation is the Hebrew word korban - קרבן. But the word korban has none of the associations of pain entailed in giving up something of value. Loss is not the emphasis. In fact, Korban is related to the Hebrew word “karev - to be near.” A korban is an offering through which a person seeks to draw near to HaShem. For our forefathers, dedication of a perfect animal as a sacrificial offering did not evoke feelings of pain or regret over a diminished flock. On the contrary, the one who dedicated a korban found a greater reward in a closer, more powerful connection to HaShem and the community. In bringing a korban, what was given, paled in comparison to what was gained.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote on this topic:
“It is most regrettable that we have no word which really reproduces the idea which lies in the expression ‘korban.’ The unfortunate use of the term ‘sacrifice’ implies the giving of something up that is of value to oneself for the benefit of another, or of having to do without something of value, ideas which are not only absent from the nature and idea of a korban but are diametrically opposed to it....
KAREV (the root of korban) means to approach, to come near, and so to get into a close relationship with somebody. This at once most positively gives the idea of the object and purpose of the process of KORBAN as the attainment of a higher sphere of life ... the (person) desires that something of himself should come closer to God, that is what his KORBAN is ...”
The Maharal suggests a similar idea. The devastating effect of sin is that it draws man away from HaShem. The purpose of the korban, as indicated by its name, is to snatch him from the clutches of sin, and to bring he back to HaShem. Just like korbanot (plural of korban), writes the Maharal, Torah exists in this world in order to bring man closer to HaShem, to help man bridge the seemingly infinite gap between him and the Divine. Torah provides man with a taste of the spiritual world, and thus allows whoever engages in it to, at least partially, leave the realm of the physical and cling to the spiritual. A person who engages in Torah study, especially in the study of korbanot, achieves similar (and maybe even greater) results as the man who brings korbanot.
Our houses have two ‘altars’, the bed and the dining table. The Bet HaMikdash, The House of the Holy One, also has two altars, the Ark of the Covenant and the brazen altar. The two altars of the Temple correspond to the two ‘altars’ in our homes. Our dining table is equivalent to the brazen altar and our beds correspond to the Ark of the Covenant. As our beds are in an inner room, so too is the Ark in an inner room. As the dining table is where we consume food, so too is ‘food’ consumed on the brazen altar.
Thus, the common dining table is likened to the holy altar! On a purely superficial level the correlation is inferred on the basis of simple physical similarities. As described by the Prophet Ezekiel, both altar and table approximate each other in design, dimensions and materials.
Yechezkel (Ezekiel) 41:22 The altar, three cubits high, and the length thereof two cubits, was of wood, and so the corners; the length thereof and the walls thereof, were also of wood; and he said unto me: “This is the table that is before the Lord.”
However their similitude in form is extended by R. Yohanan and Resh Lakish to indicate a similitude in function, both serving the role of atonement.
Chagigah 27a For it is written: The altar, three cubits high, and the length thereof two cubits, was of food, and so the corners; the length thereof and the walls thereof, were also of wood; and he said unto me: ‘This is the table that is before the Lord’. — [The verse] begins with the altar and ends with the table! R. Johanan and Resh Lakish both explain: At the time when the Temple stood, the altar used to make atonement for a person; now a person’s table makes atonement for him.
As a result of the comparison of the altar to the table, the Rama writes that it is a mitzva to have salt on the table, “for the table is like the altar, and the eating like a korban.” The Rama makes a critical observation by comparing the food eaten to the actual sacrifice, for really it is these “active” components which define the their respective structures through their function; that is to say, food, in the case of the table, and korban, in the case of the altar.
Vayikra (Leviticus) 3:11-12 And the priest shall burn it upon the altar: [it is] the food of the offering made by fire unto HaShem. And if his offering [be] a goat, then he shall offer it before HaShem.
Vayikra (Leviticus) 3:14-16 And the two kidneys, and the fat that [is] upon them, which [is] by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away. And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: [it is] the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat [is] HaShem’s. And he shall offer thereof his offering, [even] an offering made by fire unto HaShem; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that [is] upon the inwards,
1 Shmuel (Samuel) 14:28 Then answered one of the people, and said, Thy father straitly charged the people with an oath, saying, Cursed [be] the man that eateth [any] food this day. And the people were faint.
In other words, food connects the soul to the body, the spritual to the physical. Now we can understand why a korban is called “food”. A korban connects HaShem (The Spritual) to the earth (the physical). It is not that He eats the food, but rather the consumption by fire is the means with which HaShem draws near to the physical, to us!
Having described the korban as a medium for effecting a closeness to HaShem, what remains is to discover this latent potential in our everyday food. In other words, how is man to become close to HaShem through his food? The simplest answer is through his sanctification of the act one incorporates the divine into the mundane. By following the dietary laws prescribed by HaShem and by reciting the blessings on the meal, one elevates the meal from the purely utilitarian to one that serves a higher purpose of recognizing one’s creator. Radak, in commenting on the verse in I Kings 2:7, writes that “through eating and drinking one finds the path to coming close [kirvu] to HaShem”. Furthermore when one eats a particularly sumptuous meal, defined in the Gemara as “meat and wine”, one achieves a level of satisfaction and gladness referred to as simcha. The Shulhan Aruch writes that on the holidays one is commanded to reach this level of rejoicing with HaShem, and thus, our very meal which brings us gladness serves to connect us in this joy with the divine.
Let us look at the particular text that introduces as to korbanot. Bear in mind that the word korban literally means to “draw near,” not “sacrifice.” So the following is a literal translation:
Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:2 When a person shall draw near – from you – a drawing-near to HaShem, from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall draw near your drawing-near.
The word korban literally means to “draw near,” not “sacrifice”. This verse is speaking of a voluntary offering, and it teaches us a fundamental idea about korbanot: if you want to come near to HaShem, it must come “from you.” Once that is accomplished, bring your sheep too.
The עולה, burnt-offering, atones for sinful thoughts, and for neglecting the performance of the positive commandments. The חטאת, sin-offering, atones for the commission of unintentional sins provided the sins are so severe that the transgressor would be liable to the penalty of keret, extirpation, had he committed them intentionally. God would prefer that we transgress no sins at all and hence render needless the entire institution of atonement sacrifices.
A common misconception in the Gentile world is that chattat korbanot (sin sacrifices) were brought for all sins. This is not a Torah concept. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Korbanot chattat were only brought for unintentional sins.
Bamidbar (Numbers) 15:27-31 And if one person sin through error (unwittingly), then he shall offer a she-goat of the first year for a sin-offering. 28 And the priest shall make atonement for the soul that erreth, when he sinneth through error, before HaShem, to make atonement for him; and he shall be forgiven, 29 both he that is home-born among the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them: ye shall have one law for him that doeth aught in error. 30 But the soul that doeth aught with a high hand, whether he be home-born or a stranger, the same blasphemeth HaShem; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he hath despised the word of HaShem, and hath broken His commandment; that soul shall utterly be cut off (keret), his iniquity shall be upon him.
The Nazarean Codicil echoes this understanding.
Bereans (Hebrews) 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
Chattat, refers only to unintentional sins, generally those that had they been done intentionally are culpable of karet, being cut off. Carelessness and inadvertence indicate laxness as concerns one’s responsibilities; such transgressions defile the sanctuary. The chattat, bringing purification and expiation to the sanctuary, is a mandatory part of the unintentional sinner’s repentance process. With the exception of the asham (guilt offering) brought for withholding testimony, intentional sins can not be expiated by means of a sacrifice.
Melachim Alef (I Kings) 8:46-50 If they sin against thee, (for there is no man that sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives unto the land of the enemy, far or near; 47 Yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; 48 And so return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto thee toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name: 49 Then hear thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven thy dwelling place, and maintain their cause, 50 And forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee, and give them compassion before them who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them:
Thus we understand that the efficasy of teshuva is foretold by King Shelomo. Teshuva is required for all sins. Additionally, unintentional sins required a korban chattat. The korban was not brought by the penitent who sinned willfully, but rather unintentionally. To draw near to HaShem, after sin, always requires teshuva!
Tehillim (Psalms) 51:15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. 16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Menachoth 110a It was taught: R. Simeon b. ‘Azzai said. Come and see what is written in the chapter of the sacrifices. Neither el nor elohim is found there, but only the Lord (HaShem), so as not to give sectarians any occasion to rebel.
This suggests that a korban is associated with The Name that is associated with the attribute of loving-kindness and rachamim - mercy. It is not associated with any of His names which are associated with the attribute of Judgment. This tells us something very profound about the korbanot.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 12:29 When HaShem thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; 30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. 31 Thou shalt not do so unto HaShem thy God: for every abomination to HaShem, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik said, “When a man brings a sacrifice after having sinned, he must imagine that it is he himself who is being offered upon the altar. When the blood of the animal is sprinkled, he must imagine that it is his own blood that is being sprinkled - that his own hot blood which in his passion drew him to sin, is being sprinkled upon the altar of his sin; that the fats which are consumed on the altar are not the animal’s, but his own fats, which congealed in his heart and gave him over to the hands of sin. Only by virtue of God’s august mercy is man redeemed from having to sacrifice himself, for it is God who arranged for a ram to take the place of Isaac. It is for this reason that it is always the Ineffable name of God (the Tetragrammaton - indicating God’s attribute of mercy and forgiveness) that appears in the context of sacrifices - for the quality of divine mercy is revealed in the sacrificial rites”.
Man and all he possesses belongs to HaShem. An animal sacrifice is a very inadequate substitute for the real korban, which is human sacrifice. This is the significance of the akeida and the crucifixion. Avraham understood that HaShem wanted the life of Yitzchak, but demanded only a substitute.
Yeshua understood that He was the substitute for all of the Goyim. If the Torah had used the names of El or Elohim, then a subsititute would not have sufficed as these names are associated with the attribute of strict justice. Since the korbanot are associated with the YHVH (HaShem) name; a substitute is not only permitted, but required.
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l writes: Why does G-d despise human sacrifice? Animals lack intelligence, and they have no way to be elevated to a higher purpose other than by being sacrificed to HaShem. Not so humans, who have intelligence, and who can use that intelligence to elevate themselves. In particular, man can elevate himself by reflecting on the purpose for which his animal was offered to HaShem.
However, we are told of the future
We also read
Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 43:20 The beasts of the field will honor Me . . .
If so, it will no longer be appropriate in the future to offer animal sacrifices. Accordingly, says our verse (which speaks of the End of Days), “Then the minchah / meal offering of Yehudah and Yerushalayim will be pleasing to HaShem, as [other sacrifices were] in days of old and in former years.
Ok, now we have learned a bit about the korbanot, but how does this apply to us? Since the Temple was destroyed we can longer bring a korban:
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 12:10 But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which HaShem your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; 11 Then there shall be a place which HaShem your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto HaShem:
In the absence of the Temple, what do the korbanot have to do with us? The Gemara points out that the daily prayers are structured based on the daily korbanot. The Gemara goes a step further to inform us that prayer is even more significant than korbanot. The goal of korbanot is to elevate man from his lowly state, to purify him, and to bring him close to HaShem. This is the goal of prayer as well.
Hoshea 14:1 O Israel, return unto HaShem thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. 2 Take with you words, and turn to HaShem: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.
Berachoth 32b R. Eleazar also said: prayer is more efficacious than offerings, as it says, To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me, and this is followed by, And when ye spread forth your hands.
Yeshua is the atonement for the Gentiles (the world). In this way He plays the role of Yitzchak (Isaac) when he was bound by Avraham. In the same way that Yitzchak was an atonement for the Jews, so also was Yeshua an atonement for the Gentiles. He was the Lamb of God, He was the sacrificial offering required of all Gentiles as part of the conversion process. He is therefore a replacement for the lamb of conversion which can no longer be brought because the Temple was destroyed. Jews do not need this lamb because they converted at Mt. Sinai in the days of Moses and thus have no need of the conversion lamb.
There are two aspects to bringing a korban. The first is the complicated laws and deep intentions required for the sacrifice. Not everyone was able to have these profound intentions, so the job of offering the animal was left to the kohanim. The second aspect, which applied to the entire nation, was experiencing the holy atmosphere of HaShem’s house. This acted to inspire and uplift the nation.
Just as the korbanot involved two separate aspects, so do our prayers. The text of our prayers was composed by the one hundred twenty elders of the Men of the Great Assembly, some of whom were prophets. These great men understood the world and all the mystical forces involved therein. When they composed the prayers, each word was carefully weighed and placed in such a way that it would have a tremendous spiritual and mystical impact. This is the first aspect of prayer. Just like the korbanot, our prayers involve profound ideas and forces that most people cannot understand.
However, prayer also shares the korban’s second aspect. In both, the general populace have the opportunity to be inspired by standing before HaShem. When a person brought a korban, they did not necessarily have the deep intentions that the kohanim did. They were, however, inspired by the experience. In the same way, we do not necessarily understand the profound concepts behind our prayers. We can, however, be inspired by the experience of standing before HaShem. Even if a person does not understand the words, it is still important for him to pray because it creates a connection with HaShem. This is the main goal of our prayers. Once a person does this, the next step is to develop an understanding of the prayers. He can begin with the simple translation, and then work his way into the various commentaries.
A person must eat a few times a day. If he does not, he will survive, but will feel its absence. This should be our attitude towards our mitzvot and prayers. The korbanot offered us a way of connecting with HaShem. This connection must be reinforced on a daily basis. Now that we live without korbanot, there are still ways to develop this connection. We have the opportunity to approach HaShem in prayer and stand in His presence a few times each day. Also, by enhancing our performance of mitzvot for HaShem’s sake, we develop a love that connects us, which may not have existed before. By working on enhancing our concentration on and understanding of our prayers, and by performing mitzvot for HaShem’s sake, we can create this connection with Hashem.
Why in fact does HaShem wish for us to bring Korbanot?
Sanhedrin 106b Raba observed: Is there any greatness in propounding problems? In the years of Rab Judah the whole study was confined to Nezikin, whilst we study a great deal even of ‘Ukzin; and when Rab Judah came to the law, ‘If a woman preserves vegetables in a pot’ — or as others say, ‘olives which were preserved with their leaves are clean,’ — he observed, ‘I see here the discussion of Rab and Samuel;’ whilst we, on the other hand, have studied Ukzin at thirteen sessions, yet Rab Judah merely took off his shoes, and the rain came down, whilst we cry out [in supplication] but there is none to heed us. But it is because the Holy One, blessed be He, requires the heart, as it is written, But the Lord looketh on the heart.
Because “HaShem desires the heart”, HaShem wants us to give from our hearts, that we should use the Korbanot as a means of improving what is in our hearts, the Korbanot are not for His benefit but for our own. In what way does a Korban change a person’s heart? At the time of the sacrifice it should awaken within him the desire to be bound and brought upon the altar like Yitzchak Abinu as a means of becoming closer to HaShem. Because HaShem informed us at Akeidat Yitzchak that He does not desire human sacrifice, I must bring an animal in my stead. Yet, had it been possible, I would offer myself, for I wish to totally give of myself to HaShem. This is the feeling one should have when offering a Korban.
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Succah 49 Rabbi Elazar said: Doing righteous deeds of charity is greater than offering all of the sacrifices, as it is written: “Doing charity and justice is more desirable to the Lord than sacrifice”.
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This study was written by
Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David
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 Commentary to Vayikra 1:2
 Tiferet Yisrael 70
 Yechezkel (Ezekiel) 41:22
 Oreh Hayim 167:5
 Oreh Hayim 529:1-2
 See Ramban, conclusion of Vayikra.
 Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, On Repentance, pp. 266-268
 Berachoth 26a/b
 Berachoth 32b
 Mishle (Proverbs) 21:3