7 Nisan 5781  

 Are We Polluted?

 By Ranebi (Rabbi Netanel ben Yochanan)

The events of Vayikra (Leviticus) take place over a period of one month and begins in the first month of the second year after leaving Egypt. It is always important when studying the Torah to ask three things…to whom was it directed, when and why was it written? The answers to these questions help us understand what the Creator was saying to us and how to apply His teachings for today.  Vayikra 1:2 says, “…if any man of you brings an offering…” The word used here in the Hebrew for “man” is “adam” I in the context of the human race) not “ish” (generally used for a male) showing us the universality of this message and that the role of Israel is to be ohr l’goyim, light to all nations.

God was speaking at that time specifically to the nation of Israel, which can be compared to a baby girl born to a mother who is addicted to the drug, heroin. Today, to help an addict get out of his addiction, he begins a detoxification process by receiving a controlled dose of a less potent drug, methadone, so that little by little he can stop using heroin. The gods of the Egyptians were like the heroin drug and the Creator would give them a series of “controlled doses” like the drug, on what to do within the Mishkan to focus them away from their idolatry. 

The Almighty summoned Moses and gave him instructions to tell the people to bring Him an “offering” (korban קָרְבָּן), an animal from the herd or the flock. The Hebrew word Korban has been mistranslated as sacrifice; it comes from the root “kerev” – קרב which means to draw near, to come close”. The means by which we do that, is to bring the animal or flour offering to the cohen, the priest. By so doing, we are acknowledging our wrong doings, but we must also take the necessary steps to make restitution to those we have wronged. That is the only way we can heal our relationship with God, ourselves and our neighbors. The Creator wants us to approach Him willingly – “lirtzono” -לִרְצֹנוֹ and the greatest korban we can bring to the Creator is “ourselves”.  He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him rather than to be concerned with a multitude of rituals or hocus-pocus which we humans tend to prefer.  When the person would place their hands on the head of this innocent animal, it was not about the transference of our sins to it, rather it had to do with our acknowledgement that we had done wrong and the recognition that we had to make it right. Acknowledgement is the Key!  

When many people read about these “sacrifices” of animals, they compare it to the pagan religions who need to appease their bloodthirsty gods in order avoid their wrath.  The God of Israel needs neither to be fed with blood nor appeased.   There is a phrase in Vayikra 1:13 – “a burnt offering of… נִיחֹחַ רֵיחַ re’ach nicho’ach, a sweet savor or fragrant aroma”. The roots of these words are ‘ruach’ – רוח meaning spirit’ and ‘nachon’ – נכוןmeaning true, right or correct. This give us the understanding of acceptance by the Creator because we are willing to make things right. These offerings were clearly understood by the people at that time because they had just left a system where they were deeply rooted in these ideas. The Creator would now sanitize them and slowly “refocus” their attention from the pagan ways to His ways. This would be a long process.  Today we live in the 21st century and you would be surprised at how many of us still love the “hocus-pocus”, the magic over reason even though the Creator wants to free us.  

It is extremely difficult for us today to relate to the various aspects of the “sacrificial system”. We can get a glimpse of it when we examine the offerings of Cain and Abel.  Cain brought “an offering” from his garden and Abel brought the “first fruit” of his cattle.  This demonstrates that the intention of Abel was to bring the best of what he had, while Cain didn’t care. This concept did not change with the offerings brought by the people to the cohanim. God never forced them to bring Him offerings but if and when they did come, they were to bring the very best of what they had, animal or grain.  The only One who could discern the intention of the offeror was the Almighty (see Jer. 17:7-10). It is impossible for humans to know the intentions of another individual. We have enough trouble knowing our own hearts which is why we should never judge the intentions of another. That is God’s job.  

Here is a modern midrash which will help us better understand what this means. 

 “There was a man who did a terrible thing to his best friend and really hurt him.  One day this friend sent an invitation to the man to come to his home for dinner.  The man upon receiving the invitation felt a rush of great shame for what he had done to his friend and didn’t know what to do to make it up to him.  How would his friend ever forgive him for what he had done?  He decided to go and get him a very special gift, hoping that this would help his friend forgive him. He searched and searched until he could find the best possible gift to bring to his home.  When he arrived at his friend’s home and saw him, he lowered his head and with a very contrite heart asked his friend to forgive him.  When his friend saw how sorry the man truly was, he gladly accepted the gift, and they were reconciled”.

I do not believe that rebuilding the Temple with its ritualistic animal offerings is what the Creator is calling us to do today.  It is obvious to me that the people who want that, have never understood the principles that the Torah is teaching us. In the Prophets and the Writings, the people were told that their sacrifices meant nothing to the Bore Olam if their hearts were not in it. “18 For You will not delight in sacrifice, else would I give it; You will not have pleasure in burnt-offering.19 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” Psalm 51:18-19. The Creator wants us to be responsible for our actions; He speaks to us in simple terms so that we can understand but more importantly, so that we can obey. Before Pesach, let us search our hearts and see what modern day gods are still polluting us and what is holding us back from drawing near to our Bore Olam.