Parshas Vayikra - The Lost Art of Sacrifice
“Speak to the children of Israel, and tell them: ‘A man who will sacrifice from among you a sacrifice to G-d; from a cow, from a bull, and from sheep shall you offer your offering.’” (Vayikra 1:2)
This pasuk has a strange construction. It ought to have said, “A man from among you who will sacrifice a sacrifice to G-d.” What does the Torah mean when it says, “A man who will sacrifice from among you a sacrifice to G-d.” The sentence simply doesn't flow. Clearly the Torah is trying to teach us something.
Mishkan - A Sanctuary in Space and in Soul
Vayikra is in many ways a sefer that revolves around the korbanos brought in the Beis HaMikdash. The laws of the Torah are eternal and thus despite the fact that we no longer have a Beis HaMikdash where we can bring sacrifices, the spirit of the korbanos is still as relevant today as it ever was.
The Medrash in Parshas Naso makes it clear that the purpose of our creation is to build a dwelling place for God in our world. A home if you will. The Mishkan was the representation of that concept in space but it was more than that, as the pasuk says "Build for me a Mishkan and I will dwell within you." The Mishkan was not only a place where we could go to worship Hashem but it revealed a Godly place within each one of us as well. While we no longer have the Beis HaMikdash, we continue to have the Godly soul that is necessary to build Him a home in this world. As we build our own homes, and lead our own lives we are gifted with the opportunity to use these in God's service so that He will feel comfortable in the world. In that way we continue to perpetuate the indwelling of Godliness that exists in every Jew.
Lessons from the Korban Tamid
The main korban that was brought in the Beis HaMikdash was the korban tamid that was brought daily in the morning and the evening. The korban tamid was only one lamb with a little bit of wine, flour, oil and salt. Not every Jew was required to bring his own lamb but the people would get together and donate money which would then be pooled together to bring the sacrifice. It turns out that the korban tamid, the korban that was brought most in the Beis HaMikdash, was of very little expense to begin with and the amount required to donate was minimal at best. God does not demand of us that we give away everything we have to the sacrifice but rather God asks of us that whatever we give we should give with our whole heart. Quantity is not impressive to God. When your infinite, a lot is still nothing. Quality however is important. If our service is pure and authentic, given as part of a community, then it is meaningful to Him. How we serve God is more important than what we serve God with.
A further lesson that can be drawn from the korban tamid is that while it is only brought twice a day it is called a constant (tamid) sacrifice. This indicates that the sacrifice that was brought in the morning has an impact until the sacrifice that is brought in the evening which in turn has an impact until the morning korban. The sacrifice that is brought in the morning must influences us throughout the course of the day. The sacrifice that is brought in the evening must influence us throughout the night. Much of our life is spent in the mundane but it must be book-ended by our service to God. In this way our day is framed by the sanctity of the sacrifice. How we participate in our jobs, the menial tasks of our family, our daily interactions with others, these are all influenced by the korban we bring in the morning and night. God has instructed us to build the world. We are not expected to stay in the sanctuary of the sublime. We are expected to be mekadesh shem shomayim (sanctify God's name) in everything that we do. The daily sacrifice in the morning and the evening provides us with the necessary focus. While we no longer have the korban tamid we still have the teffilah of modeh ani that we say each morning immediately upon awakening. This devotion and commitment permeates our entire day so that we continue our commitment to our Jewish Mission.
Another lesson from the korban tamid is the manner in which we bring the korban. The blood was sprinkled on the mizbeach and the fats were burned on the mizbeach. Blood represents passion and energy. Fats represent pleasure. As a Jew begins his/her day we must direct our enthusiasm to Godliness and commit ourselves to engaging in appropriate Godly pleasures.
In summation, there are three lessons that we learn from the korban tamid. The quality of how we serve God is more important than the quantity that we serve God with. While we may not always be engaged in the most sublime pursuits we must always be acting in the service of God. Our passion and enthusiasm and pleasures in life must all be committed to God.
Returning to our initial question as to why the Torah wrote “A man who will sacrifice from among you a sacrifice to G-d ” and not “A man from among you who will sacrifice a sacrifice to G-d” the Alter Rebbe provides us with a truly inspirational explanation. As we saw above, Hashem does not require large physical sacrifices. What he wants is us. Our passions. Our enthusiasm. Our energy. Our devotion. Our commitment. The person is important to God above all. The Mishkan was more than just a traveling sanctuary, it was the expression of the essential relationship that every one of us has with God. When the Torah tells us to bring a korban “From among you” this is what it meant. When we look in our lives to make a sacrifice to God it must come from within. We can go through the motions of making our donations but it does not hold a candle to the one who gives from their hearts. Husbands may tell their wives about all the acts of service that they do for them and while they are of course meaningful in the end the wife is unsatisfied. More than she wants her husband to take out the garbage or do homework with the kids, she wants her husband. When our relationships become functional and lose the devotion of our passion that is when things start to fall apart. The challenge for us is, are we truly sacrificing ourselves to God or are we just going through the motions?