This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayikra (5761)
About 25 years ago after I graduated University I began to get interested in Judaism. Naturally the first book I undertook reading was the Five Books of Moses. Genesis and Exodus were pretty interesting. But then I turned the page to Leviticus (this week’s section) and saw page after page of animal sacrifices!
“Wow,” I remember thinking to myself “This is really crazy stuff!! What has this got to do with Judaism?!”. Why would G-d take them out of Egypt and tell them to build a Holy Tabernacle….for this?!!” And even if once upon a time they actually did these bloody rituals, it’s obviously obsolete today! Don’t any of those Orthodox Rabbis know this?
It all made no sense.
At that point realized that I had no idea what Judaism is.
Later I learned that ‘The Zohar’ (mystical book) writes in detail about the sacrifices and calls them “The secret of secrets which touch on the mystery of ‘The Ain Sof” (another name for G-d).
But there is much of the Korbonot (Sacrifices) that we can understand and even internalize.
The previous Lubavitch Rebbe explains in the last essay of his life “Bati LaGani”, that the Hebrew word for animal sacrifice, ‘Korban’ also implies ‘coming close’. Although it is impossible to see or understand G-d, it is a commandment to come as close as possible. The sacrifices in the Holy Temple were the ultimate way of coming close. Here are a few of the many reasons.
Firstly: Sacrifices are above understanding and they were the main service in the Holy Temple. Implying that a Jew’s connection to G-d is above all logic.
Secondly: There are many Midrashim (including the Zohar) and laws, which put great intellectual depth and meaning into the sacrifices and the Temple. This brings one’s mind to be completely involved in the service of G-d.
Thirdly: Everyone has animal drives and instincts, much like the animals sacrificed on the altar, which must be transformed and involved completely in Judaism. The sacrifices give inspiration and energy to do so with fire (enthusiasm), blood (desire), and soul (devotion). This is the foundation for prayer today and the involvement of emotion in Judaism.
Fourthly: Sacrifices use, and thereby give importance to, the most mundane of physical creations for the service of the Creator, therefore completely involving action.
In other words, the Sacrifices involve one’s whole being and personality; Will, Intellect, Emotions, and Body in the service of G-d; Complete involvement.
Here is a story to illustrate:
A Russian peasant once said to his friend “You know Ivan, I have been thinking, it is really very stupid for us to pay taxes to the Czar.”
“Why is that?” asked Ivan.
“Because do you know where all our Rubles come from? Well I’ll tell you where, the Czar himself has them printed in his palace, that’s where.”
“So what?” asked Ivan.
“So what!? I’ll tell you so what! So why doesn’t he just keep all the rubles he needs in the first place, and we’ll keep ours!”
“Ahhh Igor you are very stupid” replied Ivan “That’s the whole point! The Czar doesn’t want his ruble…he wants YOU and YOUR ruble!”
Similarly: Once a very great and famous Lithuanian Torah Scholar came to a center of Torah learning to find a potential match for his daughter. He invited all of the eligible young scholars in the town to the main synagogue that evening, and posed a difficult Talmudic question for them, announcing that whoever answered the question to his satisfaction would win his daughter’s hand in marriage.
The young men struggled to understand the question and even came up with tens of answers, but none of them was even close. After two hours the great man dismissed the disappointed congregation and retired to his room to pack his bags for his early departure the next day.
The next morning just as he had just entered the carriage to leave, one of the young men present in the crowd the night before, came running toward the carriage shouting for him to wait. The wise man ordered the driver to stop and the young man looked in the window.
“What is the answer?” the young man asked. “Pardon me?” replied the wise man. “Please excuse me” repeated the young man,” but I stayed up most of the night and I can’t seem to figure out the answer to your question, please tell me what the answer is.” “Ah!” replied the Scholar, “You are the one that I want as a son-in-law!”
The Scholar knew the answer, what he was looking for was complete involvement.
What we are waiting impatiently for is the building of the Third Holy Temple by the Moshiach when the Sacrifices will again resume and all mankind will be completely involved in the true service of the Creator.
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