Rabbi Shlomo Gelman
Former Rosh Kollel in Sao Paolo
Most of Sefer Vayikra as well as about a third of the Torah’s positive mitzvot pertain to korbanot (sacrifices). Hence, since we no longer have korbanot, our Avodat Hashem is – by definition – incomplete.
Yet, we must recognize that our generation finds the idea of korbanot to be extremely problematic. After all, korbanot seem out of place in today’s primarily physical world, in which spirituality is constrained to the realm of thoughts, ideas, mysticism, and perhaps also speech and studying. Moreover, many people associate korbanot with a primitive world of idolatry and remote civilizations.
Indeed, the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:46) says that korbanot are a response to the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and other nations who would offer sacrifices to goats. The Torah uses the korbanot to show that these “deities” are worthless and are to be brought as offerings to Hashem.
However, the Ramban (Vayikra 1:9) rejects the Rambam’s explanation and notes that both Hevel and Noach brought korbanot before the aforementioned idolatries came into existence. Furthermore, Hevel’s and Noach’s korbanot were accepted as a rei’ach nicho’ach (a pleasing fragrance) by Hashem!
Instead, the Ramban opines that all the actions associated with the korbanot – such as shechitah (ritual slaughter), zerikat hadam (sprinkling the blood), and hakravah al hamizbei’ach (placing the offering on the altar) – represent everything that the sinner deserves to have happen to him. Thus, the sinner will recognize the errors of his ways and do teshuvah.
But the Ramban’s view is also foreign to our modern sensibilities. Today’s materialistic society values nature, focuses on man, and recoils from causing harm to the ecology and, especially, to any living thing. In such a setting, the korbanot are not likely to induce a sinner to do teshuvah.
Nevertheless, we can observe a ray of light on the horizon. Although our generation continues to revere the physical world, ever-increasing numbers of young people have begun to search for spiritual meaning in their lives. Some employ uplifting songs and music to inspire them to prayer and greater devotion to Hashem. Unfortunately, others mistakenly look to foreign and exotic religions. Obviously, their chosen path is far from ideal, but most of them are motivated by good intentions. They seek a more spiritual approach, and we can only hope that they will eventually be drawn to true holiness.
In conclusion, may we be privileged to witness the fulfillment of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook’s words:
“And with respect to the korbanot, it is also more correct to believe that everything will revert to the way it was. And when the time comes, and the Salvation will arrive, and prophecy and Ru’ach HaKodesh will return to Israel, we will observe everything that is stated in the Torah, as it is stated. And we shall no longer act in accordance with the ideas of European culture, because Hashem’s Word, which is with us, will lift every foundation of the culture to the highest level, far above anything that the human intellect can achieve/ And it is not appropriate for us to think that korbanot only involve coarseness and crudeness. Rather, they have an inherent internal sanctity, which will only be revealed when Hashem’s Light is revealed to His People and a sanctified resurgence will return to Israel and will be recognized by all the other nations. Nevertheless, I agree… that it is impossible for us to approach the korbanot without the return of revealed Ru’ach HaKodesh in Israel. Yet, this hope is neither marvelous nor distant. It is possible that it will suddenly come to the Master’s Temple, which we seek, and to the Angel of the Covenant, whom we anticipate. And then the Beit HaMikdash will be rebuilt, speedily and in our days.” (See the introduction to Techumin 1.)
Amen, ken yehi ratzon, and Shabbat Shalom u’mevorach!