A True Offering

Nisan 10 5780

Last week in Vayikra “And He called” we learned that He called the community to bring the Korbanot, the offerings to Him. This week in Parashat Tzav, “He commands” Aaron and his children, the Cohanim, how to offer the Korbanot. They would perform and teach this to the community in which everyone had a special role. Please note that I am not saying “sacrifices” since they were a pagan idea. Many civilizations at that time, brought sacrifices to their gods to “appease” them, but the Creator was pointing us in a very different direction. We would by our own free will, choose to bring these offerings to Him and accept responsibility for our actions. The second offering mentioned was the “mincha”, the grain offerings presented to the Creator as an “olah”, a burnt offering for a רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ rei’ach nicho’ach, a sweet incense to Him. The first word rei’ach comes from the word ruach – רוח – which means spirit or breath and nicho’ach comes nachon – נכון – meaning “right, accepted, good”. This spiritual offering would be accepted by the Creator.

In Tzav the word Torah is repeated several times; the Torah for the mincha, the shelamim etc., meaning “instructions” on how to do them. Being legalistic and taking things literally take us away from understanding the reasons that the Creator spoke to His people that way at that time. The Creator wanted them to think for themselves and to be responsible for their actions as He does with us today. He wanted us to know that no one else could pay for our actions. The gifts or offerings were not to get on His good side when we did something wrong. We cannot buy God with a pay-off. The Haftarah reading in Malachi 3 shows us that He is not impressed with our offerings because He knows our intentions. The Creator held the Cohanim to a higher standard because they would be the teachers of the people. The more that is given to you, the more is required of you. That is why Moshe didn’t want the position of leading the people.

I have been speaking to you about the difference between being religious and having a relationship with the Creator. Most of us are religious, preferring to follow pre-set formulas and wearing a façade until we are unmasked by the Creator. Why do we need to come to the congregation on Shabbat well-dressed? Does the Creator need us to do that? He’s not impressed with how we dress since He knows us from within. It is not about making an impression, it is more about reverence and respect as if we are going to a wedding and want to honour the family. If we treat our parents or someone in a higher position with respect, how much more to we need to do that for our Creator? When we remove theology and return to the Scriptures, we see that the Creator wants His community to be in a relationship with Him instead of being religious. The religious perform externally for others, but a true believer has a personal relationship with the Creator. We know Him in a way that we can have an intimate conversation with Him. That is known as “Tefilah – תפילה – prayer”.

We brought the Korban Olah as an acknowledgment of His supremacy and greatness. The Chataat offering was presented to Him when we realized that we had done something wrong unintentionally. It has been called a sin offering but a better understanding would be “we missed the mark.” The Asham, guilt offering was when we were convicted within about something wrong that we did again unintentionally. We do not have a Temple today where we would bring these offerings although there are groups who want to rebuild it and reinstate the sacrifices. Some say that the Shelamim, the thanksgiving offering is the only one that will be reinstated. The offerings were meant to show us that each of us is to respond to Him by being willing to serve the Creator and true service is about serving each other in the community. Rabbi Yonatan Ben Zakkai, after the destruction of the Temple, reminded us about this from the prophet Hoshea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.” The Creator wants us to help others rather than killing animals. The knowledge of God means having an intimate relationship with Him as in “Adam knew his wife, Eve.”

Isaiah 1:11 says “ To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? says the LORD; I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats.” We have theologized and have implanted the idea that if someone or something does not die and shed blood, we cannot receive forgiveness for our sins. The Creator tells us that there is no offering for intentional sin except for teshuva. Psalms 51: 18 and 19 state: “For You do not delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it; You take no pleasure in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

Today we are going through very difficult times. The news can be very disconcerting and confusing. We do know that there is a plague hitting the world transmitted by coughing into the air and hitting various surfaces with which we come into contact. We are told to follow simple instructions to be safe. In the same way, the Creator gives us simple instructions to follow in order to live a good life. If we are disobedient, what can we expect? Without His Torah, His Commandments, chaos results. Today is Shabbat HaGadol, the great Shabbat before Pesach which we will celebrate on Wednesday evening. In this portion one of the main offerings could not have leaven, yeast. The lamb offered on Pesach was a Shelamim Todah, a thanksgiving offering to our Creator. It was not an offering to forgive sins. We are to get rid of all chametz, yeast which represents pride, showing us that we need to humble ourselves before Him and accept the consequences of our actions. I wish you a Chag Pesach Sameach – חג פסח שמח.