The majority of Sefer Vayikra discusses the various halachos of korbanos, sacrifices, that we bring to Hashem. Of all our customs, animal sacrifice might be one of the least understood since it’s such a foreign idea to our modern mind. But even from ancient times, the more we understand about Hashem, the fact that He has no needs, wants, or desires, seems to back the idea that Korbanos are completely unnecessary. What is the reason for our korbanos?
There is a famous machlokes between the Rambam and the Ramban concerning this issue. For the purposes of this Dvar Torah, I will be addressing it based on the Ramban found in Perek 1 Pasuk 9 in this week’s parshah.
The Rambam explains that in the times when Hashem was telling Moshe the laws of korbanos, the nations of the world that had a connection to Bnei Yisrael worshipped some sort of animal; the Egyptians worshipped the sheep and the Kasdim, who lived in the Middle East, worshipped the goat. Additionally, the Indians worshipped the cow (and still do). Therefore, Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to bring these three types of animals as sacrifices to Him. Since they represented the sin of avoda zara committed by the nations, Hashem wanted Bnei Yisrael to connect to Him, and have their own sins forgiven, through the sacrifice of these animals.
The Ramban asks four questions on this Rambam, we will only bring the first. There is no mitzvah in the Torah that was given to us just in order to show the goyim that they were wrong, so why would korbanos be this way? Therefore, the Ramban explains that Hashem specifically set up the practice of animal sacrifice in order to help us atone for aveiros, because it corresponds to the instruments a person uses to sin.
A person sins with his thoughts, words, and actions. Therefore, a person does an act of Vidui and leans on the animal in order to atone for his actions. The recitation of Vidui corresponds to sins with words. And corresponding to sins done through thought, the animal’s innards are burnt since the stomach and kidneys are considered the organs that control a person’s thoughts and desires. Finally, the limbs are burnt to represent the acts done by the person’s limbs, and the blood is thrown on the sides of the mizbeach to represent a person’s neshama.
The true purpose behind this whole procedure is to show the person brining the korban that really he should be up there; but through Hashem’s kindness, instead of death, a person is allowed to bring an animal to die in his stead.
Today, tefillah has taken the place of korbanos. And while we cannot know for sure, not having experienced it ourselves, by looking at the Ramban’s description of how korbanos were used, we can understand that watching an animal sacrifice could lead us to a stronger showing of remorse for our sins than how we pray today. Sadly, with the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, these ideas are inapplicable. We pray for the day when the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt and we may once again enjoy the opportunity to bring korbanos.
For any questions, comments, to subscribe to our email list, or to submit your own Dvar Torah, please email us at AIMeMtorah@gmail.com.
Please check out our other AIMeMTorah project, Nation's Wisdom!