Sefer Vayikra deals with the laws of korbanos and those who are obligated to bring them. As we don’t have the Mishkan or the Beis Hamikdash today, these halachos seem irrelevant and unnecessary for us to study. Why then do we continue to read these parshiyos and why do so many people spend so much time studying and reviewing these halachos? Perhaps if we understood better the reason for korbanos we could understand why these laws are still studied.
The obvious question about korbanos is how does slaughtering an animal and burning it on the mizbe’ach help us? It’s not as if Hashem eats it, He doesn’t need food to “survive”. So why do we bring them? The Rosh explains that this is another example of how Hashem brings the cure before the disease hits. As it says in Koheles, “אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא” “There is no righteous person in the land who does only good and does not sin” (Koheles 7:20). At some point or other in their life, a person will sin. And regardless of that person’s spiritual standing and the size of the sin they commit, their soul will be “damaged” in some way. If there were no way of repenting and erasing the record of that sin, a person would have no reason not to continue sinning since there would be no way to get back to a higher state.
Hashem gave us this incredible gift of Teshuvah that allows us to cast off our sins and start again as if nothing happened. A parable is given that it’s like when a person gets a stain on their clothing. If there were no way of getting the stain out, the person would either throw out the garment or continue to get it dirty since it wouldn’t matter anyway to keep it clean. However, when a person has the ability to clean the garment, they will continue to watch over it so it does not get any harder to clean.
This is the purpose of korbanos. Korbanos are the tool we use to personify our repentance; in place of sacrificing ourselves for our sins, we use animals instead. The exact reasons for and the background behind our method of korbanos and why this exact way is the way we do it is something we will discuss at a different time. (Perhaps onour Nation’s Wisdom blog.) The important thing to know is that we don’t bring korbanos for Hashem at all! They are for us, acting as our “cure” before the disease of sin.
Perhaps now we can offer an answer for our original question, why do we spend so much time studying korbanos, a subject that is not even applicable today? First off all, it is important to note that any subject of Torah is important and warrants study in of itself simply because it comes from Hashem. A thorough study shows how even seemingly the most inapplicable topics contain knowledge that is important to know and help shape halacha even in modern times.
The second answer is that we hope and pray that soon these halachos will be applicable once again. When Mashiach comes and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, we will start bringing korbanos immediately, and what will we do if no one knows what to do! Therefore, we study these laws in anticipation of this day when the amazing opportunities of korbanos are again pertinent.
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