1 Adar 5761
Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:
HELP! How do I counter the “you mean you actually believe in ANIMAL SACRIFICES?!?” thing? I mean, to a modern mind, karbanos do sound a little barbaric, don’t you think?
Thank you for your time.
Darchei Binah 5758
One of the areas that I have the privilege of teaching in is Ohr Somayach’s Ohr LaGolah program, training Rabbonim who are preparing for careers in Harbotzos HaTorah. One of the areas I deal with is how to answer basic questions on Judaism. The set of twenty tapes that I have and which is available from Long Island NCSY, 516-371-0500, is taken from that course. There are a number of basic issues I cover before we even get to the answers. One of them is, you will not be able to answer someone else’s question if you are uncomfortable with the answer yourself.
A prime example of this is korbanos. I was once listening to an English language radio program in Israel before Tisha B’Av. There was a Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi discussing whether Tisha B’Av was still relevant today. The Orthodox Rabbi explained that since sinas chinam was still rampant among us, the message of Tisha B’Av was still important. The host of the program then asked him if he was looking forward to the rebuilding of the temple. The Rabbi responded of course! The interviewer then delivered the coup de grace “including animal sacrifices?!” You could hear the Rabbi begin gagging. He then began to mumble something about there being only vegetation offered in the third temple, but admitted that yes, we were looking forward to the restoration of animal sacrifices. As the Orthodox Rabbi sat there sniveling, the host turned to the Reform Rabbi and asked genially “are the Reform looking forward to animal sacrifice?” and they both enjoyed a hearty laugh.
The fact is that when they think about it, most frum Jews, though they daven for the return of the Bais HaMikdash and the Temple Service, have decidedly mixed feelings. The idea of taking a cute little goat and slitting its’ throat in order to catch the spurting blood and then, running barefoot on the bloody floor in order to throw the blood on the mizbeyach leaves people a little queasy. So the first thing we have to do is address the issue for ourselves.
When someone asks me, how do you explain animal sacrifices, I look surprised and ask them what’s the problem. This always throws them off, since questions are often based on assumptions that people accept without question. He assumed that everyone would agree that animal sacrifice was wrong, he didn’t have to exert the mental energy to think why. Well, he responds, it’s barbaric. Why? Because barbarians do it? They also eat lunch. The fact that primitive societies do something, i.e. build boats, doesn’t automatically render something unacceptable. Well, the person says, obviously being forced to think about the issue for the first time, you’re killing animals. Are you a vegetarian, I ask. Well, no the fellow admits. So you obviously don’t mind killing animals. Well, I never see it happen. Aha! You don’t mind killing animals, you just want a hired gun to do it for you! No problem, the Kohanim will take care of the job. At this point he doesn’t like the way the conversation is going, because he doesn’t seem to be making a lot of sense. Well, he says, that at least serves a worthwhile purpose. You’re using it for food. Now I understand, I say finally getting the point. You want to know if there is any worthwhile purpose to korbanos, since you have no problem killing an animal for a worthwhile purpose like say, a hamburger.
The purpose of the above is to show someone that they don’t really oppose animal sacrifice, they just don’t understand it. The question has changed from “how could any intelligent person in the 21st century believe in animal sacrifice?” to “how can we understand the significance and meaning of Korbanos”. If you don’t accomplish that first essential step, nothing else you say will be given a fair hearing.
Now let’s deal with the issue. First of course is the classic approach that applies to any korban associated with a chait. Since that applies in some way to every korban, this is a very good approach. Essentially, we ask, would you kill an animal in order to rehabilitate a thief? If you could change a person into a moral caring person, would that be worth it? If not, then you are saying that there is no difference between the life of a cow chewing grass in the field and a human being. That is a comparison that Judaism rejects. There was a case some years ago when a baby was born with a deformed heart and no transplant was available. Doctors managed to put a baboon heart into the little girl. This resulted in an outcry from some animal rights groups – why does the little girl have more right to live than the baboon?
When a person brought a korban, it was a cathartic experience. It changed his life forever. He saw the animal as himself, being slaughtered and offered up. He realized that we could act in such a way as to forfeit our very existence, a living death. When we reached a level where the bringing of a korban became a meaningless experience, Hashem took it away. Yeshaya quotes Hashem as saying, “I don’t need your slaughterings.” Rather that you change your behavior. When the korbanos were no longer meaningful, Hashem took the Bais HaMikdash away from us.
There is another understanding and that is the essential difference between the words “sacrifices” and “korbanos”. A sacrifice means that I am giving up something to fill someone else’s need. That is in fact pagan. The gods demanded sacrifices from their adherents. We however understand that Hashem doesn’t need anything from us. So how can we understand that He wants us to bring korbanos?
There was a little boy who loved his mother. And every Erev Shabbos he would see his Abba buy his Imma beautiful flowers for Shabbos which the Imma would place in a large crystal vase. The little boy thought to himself, “I would like to do that for Imma also. So he goes out one Friday afternoon and picks some flowers for his mother. You can imagine what a little boy brings back, a few weeds, some grass, something dripping pollen. But the little boy is so proud of himself and says “look Imma, I got you flowers just like Abba”. Well, the mother would really like to throw them into the garbage, but she understands that they represent the love her son has for her and so she gets a Styrofoam cup and arrange them as nicely as possible and set the little cup next to the crystal vase. How proud the little boy is! So every week he would go out and pick his “flowers” for his mother for Shabbos. But little boys being what they are, after a while the excitement wore off and it began to be another chore he had to perform. One Friday afternoon he was playing with his friends and he remembered the flowers. He runs and grabs a few weeds and dashes into the house. Tossing them on the table he says slightly annoyed “Here! You want flowers, I brought you flowers”. The mother looks at him sadly and says, “that’s all right, Abba gets me lots of flowers. I don’t need you to bring me any”. And she scoops up the weeds and drops them into the garbage. Then, realizing there is no more need for the Styrofoam cup, crushes it and tosses it into the garbage can. When the young boy looks at the crushed cup, just maybe he begins to realize that he wasn’t doing his mother a favor, rather she was doing him a favor by allowing his weeds to sit next to the beautiful flowers in the crystal vase.
Korbanos is from the word “likarev”, to come close. We want to be close to Hashem, to give Him something to express our love. So we go off into our flock and pick out a beautiful sheep and we say “look Hashem, I brought you a sheep”. Hashem is probably thinking to Himself “Great! Just what I need! A sheep”. But Hashem knows we’re doing it out of love so He says, “you know what, I’ll build you a Bais HaMikdash, you can bring the sheep over there”. Merrily we brought our sheep to the Bais HaMikdash because we understood that we had a chance through this to be close to HaKadosh Boruch Hu. But as the years passed we became like the little boy and began to feel put upon. So Hashem said “You know what, I have lots of sheep. Keep your sheep”. And with that, destroyed the Bais HaMikdash. And when we can look at the remnant of the Bais HaMikdash and understand that we lost out on soemthing, then we can be zoche to see the Bais HaMikdash rebuilt and the korbanos reinstated, bimhaira biyamanu.