Friday, March 16, 2018

Vayikra: Rambam and Korbanot

Why did Hashem command that we offer korbanot (sacrifices)? 
What is the purpose of this form of serving the Creator?

Rambams’ Explanation
Much has been written about the Rambams' controversial analysis of the service in the Bais Hamikdash in his Guide for the Perplexed. 

At the core of Rambams’ explanation is his recognition of the difficulty in changing human nature. Deeply entrenched habits and beliefs cannot be uprooted overnight. It would have been futile for the Torah to command the Israelite slaves to abruptly discontinue all forms of worship which they had known in Egypt. Such a revolutionary demand would be like a present-day religious leader demanding that we suspend all external displays of worshipping G-d - no fasts and festivals, no prayers and petitions in times of trouble - just a mental service of G-d through reflection and meditation, without action or speech.

For this reason, the Torah permitted forms of worship that were practiced in those times. However, the Torah required that all worship be directed toward G-d alone. In this way, the nation would be weaned from idolatry, without being stripped of those practices they used to express themselves spiritually.

“It is unreasonable to expect that one who grew up as a slave, laboring in mud and bricks, should one day wash his hands from the dirt and straight off [without any preparation] do battle with the giants. Therefore, G-d did not immediately bring the people into the Land of Israel, and did not lead them [along the direct route], ‘the way of the Land of the Philistines’ (Ex. 13:17). Similarly, it is unnatural for one who is accustomed to many forms of service and practices, so ingrained that they are like unquestionable laws, to abruptly desist from them.” (GuideIII,32)

Ramban Objects
Other medieval scholars rejected Rambam’ approach out of hand. Ramban (on VaYikrah. 1:9) in particular vociferously attacked this position. He refuted Rambams’ explanation with two major arguments:

  • a) The Torah describes korbanot as a “pleasant fragrance to G-d.” This phrase indicates that this form of Divine service has an intrinsic positive value, and is not just a means to wean the people from mistaken beliefs and habits.

  • b) We find that long before the idolatrous Egyptians, Noah offered sacrifices to G-d, and they were accepted: “G-d smelled the appeasing fragrance” (Gen. 8:21). Similarly, we find that G-d accepted Hevel’s offerings of sheep long before idolatrous practices had spread throughout the world.

To Reform a Prince
And yet it appears that we find support for Rambams’ explanation in the Midrash. The Midrash explains the purpose of korbanot by way of a parable.

"This is like an uncouth prince who was given to devouring unslaughtered meat. The king said: ‘Let him always be at my table, and he will be reformed on his own.’ So too, since the Israelites were keenly devoted to idolatry in Egypt... the Holy One said: Let them offer their sacrifices before Me at all times.” (Vayikra Rabbah 22:8)

A careful reading of the Midrash, however, indicates an approach quite different than that of the Rambam. The parable speaks of the prince eating all of his meals at the king’s table. Clearly, dining with the king is in itself a great privilege and honor, besides its secondary benefit as a means to reform the prince’s coarse habits.

The parable is describing a situation where the son, due to his inappropriate behavior, does not deserve to dine with the king. Dining with the king is certainly a great honor, but eating exclusively at the royal table is a special measure designed to refine the prince’s behavior. So too, offering korbanot is a lofty form of worshipping G-d. Through this service, we merit a spiritual elevation, like one who dines with the King Himself, gaining the special favor of the King of the universe.

This parable does not come to explain the concept of korbanot in general, but rather refers to a temporary edict that was in force only while the Israelites sojourned in the desert. 

For those 40 years, they were forbidden to slaughter meat for their own personal consumption. They were only allowed to eat from the Shelamim (Peace offerings) brought to the Mishkan (see Devorim 12:20). The Midrash explains that this provisional decree was meant to wean the recently liberated slaves away from idolatrous practices, ensuring that none would continue the idolatrous practices of Egypt in the privacy of his home.

Jeremiah’s Clarification
This may be the true meaning of the verse which the Rambam quoted as a source text:
“For I did not speak with your fathers, nor did I command them when I took them out of Egypt, regarding offerings and sacrifices” (Jeremiah 7:22).

This verse is problematic. 
How could Jeremiah claim that the Torah does not command us to offer korbanot

We find many chapters in VaYikrah devoted to the Temple service. 

And why does the verse stress, “When I took them out of Egypt”?

The verse cannot be referring to those offerings which are explicitly commanded in the Torah. 
Rather, it refers to the special situation that existed “when I took them out of the Land of Egypt,” when meat was permitted only when brought as a Shelamim offering in the Tabernacle.

 One might think that this is the ideal, and we should emulate the actions of that exceptional generation. 

Jeremiah therefore explained that this abundance of offerings was not an end unto itself, but only a temporary decree of that generation, in order to wean them from the idolatrous practices they had adopted in Egypt.

Adapted from Midbar Shur, pp. 158-159, sent by Rabbi Chanan Morrison,


Abe said...

Klal Yisroel was also deterred from belief in an afterlife after the redemption from Egypt.
Egypt’s belief in life after death and the dead’s journey through the precarious netherworld was a major part of their religious doctrine. Mummification and those fantastic pyramids were what was all consuming in ancient Egypt They provided the means by which they journeyed to the safe afterlife.
Klal Yisroel’s belief in an afterlife is notable for its prominent explicit absence in the Torah.You might think that those decades of enslavement would erase their religious heritage and substitute an Egyptian obsession with death, the dead and afterlife. But it is absent in the Torah precisely because the Torah wanted to banish those pagan religious fundamentals from Hashem’s revelation. Nowhere in the Torah is it stated that there is a “heaven” or you will go to heaven or shamayim after death because the Torah wanted to distance Klal Yisroel from Egyptian theology.
Those that daven at graves should consider this.

Dusiznies said...

You are correct that "after life" is not directly written in the written Torah but it is discussed at length in Mesactas Sanhedrin and in other places in the Talmud.
It is of course mentioned in an indirect way and that is also discussed in the same Mesacteh. The Gemarrah also discusses why the Torah didn't write it directly.
The same Rambam that discusses the reason for Karbonos that Harav Kook z"l so beautifully explained, writes that there is an "after life" and that is one of the basic tenets of Judaism. The fact that the Egyptians also believed in the "after life" doesn't negate the fact that "after life" is a basic fundamental belief in Judaism.
There are many mitzvois not written directly in the Torah and all mitzvois in the Torah need further info, and that's why Jews believe that the "Oral Torah" was transmitted to the Jews at Sinai at the same time as the written laws .
For example... take the Mitzvah of Tefillen, written explicitly in the written Torah .. from the written Torah itself, I do not know the shape of the tefillen, I don't know the color or how many compartments, and what verses to put into those compartments,I need the oral Torah to give me that information ...
Even circumcision which is written explicitly in the Torah, doesn't say which part of the body should be circumcised.... in fact it actually say "umol Le'Vavacha" which means to "circumcise your heart" and we know thats impossible... the oral Torah is like the instructions and both go hand in hand ..
as far as praying to the dead is concerned ... that is actually a discussion also in Mesectas Sanhedrin and some actually have no problem with praying to the dead.... but most Rabbis are of the opinion that one should pray to G-D in the merit of that particular deceased person and that praying to the dead is blaspheme ...
The Kabbalists believe that every year at the yurzeit the soul goes to a higher place, so it is customary by chassidim and Sfardim to celebrate that elevation ..... and thats why they say that the "neshama should be olaeh yafeh"
Now you can argue all day until the cows come home that you think it is ridiculous ... but the fact is that millions of Jews believe in that and I find no harm in that belief and it gives the family of the deceased comfort to go to thei graves of their family or their rabbis and pray ...
What I am against is going to Poland