Parashat Vayikra

Sacrifices Are Alive And Well!

The model of sacrifices, of offering our kindness, generosity and compassion even if it is difficult, inspires us to continue to draw close to God.

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God introduces a subject that is most fundamental and most esoteric at the same time: the korbanot, "offerings" or "sacrifices," by which we are brought near to God…. The Sages of talmudic times began to modernize the korbanot for us. The sacrificial service, they said, should be replaced in the post-Temple era by three things: tzedakah, our table, and prayer. (Tamar Frankiel, Learn Torah With…, Alef Design Group, 1999, p. 202)

On one occasion when [Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and his disciple Rabbi Yehoshua] were leaving Jerusalem, the latter gazed upon the destroyed Temple and cried out, "Woe to us! The place where Israel obtained atonement for sins is in ruins!" Rabbi Yochanan said to him, "My son, be not distressed. We still have an atonement equally efficacious, and that is the practice of benevolence." (Avot d'Rabbi Natan 4)

Ben Azzai said: Run to fulfill a slight mitzvah as if it were a weighty one, and flee from transgression: For one mitzvah draws another mitzvah, and one transgression draws another transgression, because the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the reward of a transgression is a transgression. (Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Forebears) 4:2)

Let a person do good deeds, study Torah, and bring an offering. Then God will have mercy and extend repentance. (Eliyahu Rabbah, A Torah Commentary for Our Times, UAHC Press, 1990, p. 100)

Nehama Leibowitz explains that the sacrifices are a "positive means of promoting communion with the Divine" and "a symbol and expression of a person's desire to purify himself and become reconciled with God." (cited by B. S. Jacobson in Meditations on the Torah, Sinai Publishing, Tel Aviv, 1956, pp. 137-142)

Prayer is the heart…of significant living… Prayer is a step on which we rise from the self we are to the self we wish to be. Prayer affirms the hope that no reality can crush, the aspiration that can never acknowledge defeat… Prayer seeks the power to do wisely, to act generously, to live helpfully… Prayer is the search for silence amidst noise… Prayer takes us beyond the self… Our prayers are answered…when we are challenged to be what we can be. (Rabbi Morris Adler, cited in A Torah Commentary for Our Times, UAHC Press, 1990, p. 101)

Your Guide

Since we don't have a Temple in which to make sacrifices, what does Rabbi Yochanan say about how we should perform them?

How does Ben Azzai suggest that we move closer to God?

How does Eliyahu Rabbah think that the Jewish people can attain forgiveness? Do you think we can attain forgiveness without making physical sacrifices?

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Deborah Gettes is a consultant for special needs education for the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education of Greater Philadelphia.