Rabbi Moshe Lichtman
This week’s parashah expands upon the laws of the sacrifices (korbanot). Sixteen of its eighteen mitzvot apply only in the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem (may it be rebuilt speedily in our days). This, then, is a good opportunity to discuss the purpose of korbanot.
When Tzav does not fall out on Shabbat HaGadol, its Haftarah is taken from the Book of Yirmiyah (7:21-8:3, 9:22-23). The beginning of the Haftarah reads: For I [God] did not speak with your fathers, nor command them, on the day I took them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices. Rather, only this thing I commanded them, saying, “Hearken to My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people…” These verses seem to contradict most of Sefer VaYikra, which is full of godly commandments concerning sacrifices. Many, if not all, of the commentators deal with this problem (see Nechamah Leibowitz’s Studies in VaYikra, vol. 4, pp. 1-15). Allow me to quote a beautiful explanation found in Oznayim LaTorah, by R. Zalman Sorotzkin. He answers the contradiction by comparing God to a physician. No matter how goodhearted and well-respected the doctor is, he anxiously awaits people to fall ill, for his entire livelihood depends on this. R. Sorotzkin continues:
Lest someone entertain the thought that God, as well, sits and waits (so to say) for man to sin and bring a sacrifice. Yirmiyahu comes to refute such a harmful way of thinking, by saying, For I [God] did not speak with your fathers, nor command them… concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices. Rather, only this thing I commanded them, saying, “Hearken to My voice…” That is to say, I do not want you to rebel against My word, neglect a positive commandment, and bring a wholly-burnt offering (Olah), or transgress a negative commandment and bring a sin offering (Chatat)… I do not want you to become spiritually ill and come to Me to be cured, so that I can eat bull meat and drink goat blood. God forbid to even think such things! Rather, only this thing I commanded them, saying, “Hearken to My voice, and I will be your God.” I am happy to be your “spiritual doctor” even if you do not “fall ill” and have no need for cures (sacrifices). For I do not make My living through healing…, and I have no desire for sacrifices that come as a result of sin… Furthermore, God did not even command us [to bring] free-will offerings. He simply said, If a man among you brings an offering to the Lord (1:2). [That is], if a man, of his own volition, rouses himself to bring a sacrifice to express his thanks to HaShem, he must offer it in [a specific] way, and then HaShem will accept it graciously. And if a man sins, he can be cured with a Chatat or an Asham. And even communal offerings, such as daily and additional (Musaf) sacrifices…, come to atone for the Jews, for everyone sins at some point, especially the community as a whole…
According to this, God did command us about sacrifices. However, korbanot are not an ends in and of themselves, rather, a means by which to improve our relationship with HaShem.
This connects to something else in the parashah. One of the sacrifices mentioned in Parashat Tzav is the korban Todah (Thanksgiving offering), brought after a person escapes one of four dangerous situations. Chazal state that all sacrifices will be annulled in the future, except for the Todah (VaYikra Rabbah 9:7). This and similar statements are mistakenly interpreted to mean that the sacrificial rites will not be reinstated when Mashiach arrives. First of all, it is unclear what Chazal mean when they say, “in the future.” Which era is being referred to? The Messianic era? The Afterlife? Olam HaBa? Secondly, the Rambam states unequivocally that Mashiach will reinstate sacrifices (Hilchot Melachim 11:1). Thirdly, our prayers – especially the Holiday Musaf service – are filled with pleas to HaShem to return us to Zion so that we can offer Him sacrifices once again. Finally, the Yefei To’ar explains the above-cited Midrash to mean that all sin offerings will be annulled, because Jews will no longer sin. Communal, voluntary, and thanksgiving offerings, however, will still be brought, because we will always have reasons to thank HaShem.
This coming Pesach, let us pray extra hard for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, so that we may offer sacrifices to HaShem, to atone for all our sins, draw closer to Him (as the word korban – from the root karav [draw close to] – intimates), and most importantly, to thank HaShem for all the miracles – large and small, hidden and revealed – that He constantly does for us, every day and in every generation.