An Offering from You
הרב זכריה טובי
On the pasuk, "Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them, when a man brings an offering from you to Hashem" (Vayikra 1:2), the Midrash comments:
R. Avin said: ... Moshe said before G-d: Master of the Universe! Of the seventy nations that You have in Your world, you command me only about Israel? He said to him: They are the ones who coronated Me first at the Sea and said to Me, "Hashem shall rule forever." (Shemot 15:18) R. Berechya said: He said to him: [They are] the ones who accepted upon them My rule at Sinai and [preceded "We will do" to "We will listen."]
Why did Moshe ask only about sacrifices and not about all the mitzvot, which G‑d does not give to the other nations? Also, what is G-d's answer, "They are the ones who coronated Me first at the Sea?" How does this answer the question of why sacrifices were commanded only to Israel?
There is a well-known dispute among the Rishonim as to the reason for sacrifices. The Rambam's opinion is that the role of sacrifices is to curtail evil and turn it towards a positive direction. In other words, G-d wanted to wean Israel - who worshiped idols in Egypt - from idolatry, and turn them to the true path. Therefore, He gave them the worship of sacrifices, which is a substitute for those idols that they served in Egypt, because it is impossible to command from one extreme to the other. Therefore, He gave them something similar to that worship, just that it was now for the sake of Heaven.
The Rambam adds that the Egyptians and Kasdim worshipped the lamb, as it says, "All shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians." (Bereishit 46:34) To this day, the people of India will not slaughter cattle. Therefore, G-d commanded us to sacrifice cattle and sheep, to show that what the non-Jews consider rebellion – this is an aid in the worship of Hashem.
The Ramban vehemently attacks the Rambam's position, and writes that he belittles that value of sacrifices. The role of sacrifices, according to the Ramban, is to form closeness between man and his Creator, and to draw all of the worlds closer to G-d. Since man's actions are divided into three: speech, thought, and action, therefore G-d commanded that when a person sins, he should: place his hands – corresponding to action; confess – corresponding to speech; burn the innards – corresponding to thought; throw the blood on the Altar - corresponding to his blood; and the legs – corresponding to his hands and legs, as if he offered himself before Hashem. "A soul for a soul." Through this his sin will be atoned for, and he will come close to G-d.
The word, korban, is from the word, karov (close). The concept of close and far is not in the physical sense, but rather in the spiritual sense. A person may be a great distance from his friend, but feel close to him. Conversely, a person may be close to another, but hate him; he is spiritually distant from him. This is what it says: "Why, Hashem, do you stand far away?" (Tehilllim 10:1) – Is the whole world not full of His Glory? Rather, when G-d removes his Providence and ignores in times of difficulty – He is considered distant. Similarly, it says, "He will have exalted the pride of his nation ... for Bnei Yisrael, his close people." (Tehillim 148:14) When are Israel his intimate nation? When, "The matter [Torah] is very close to you – in your mouth and your heart – to perform it." (Devarim 30:14) – when Am Yisrael observes Torah and mitzvot, G-d is close to them.
The world, from its external aspect, is very distant from its source and root, as it says, "For behold, darkness may cover the earth and a thick cloud [may cover] the kingdoms." (Yeshaya 60:2) The world is divided into four levels: inanimate, vegetable, animal, and human. The purpose of the sacrifices in the Temple is to draw the Creation to its source. This is accomplished through the mitzvah of sacrifices:
§ Sacrificing animals – this elevates animals.
§ Offering flour and libation – this elevates the vegetable.
§ Offering salt – this elevates the inanimate, as it says, "On your every offering you shall offer salt." (Vayikra 2:13)
§ "When a man brings an offering from among you to Hashem" – this is the pinnacle. It does not say, "When a man among you brings an offering, but rather, "an offering from you." Through offering sacrifices, it is as if the person offers himself, and through this he draws close to Hashem.
Based on this, we can explain the Midrash that we began with. Moshe asks Hashem specifically about the mitzvah of sacrifices, which, according to the Rambam, is a substitute for idolatry – why was this not given to the other nations, who are also idol worshippers? Hashem answers him that the reason of sacrifices is like the Ramban – to elevate all creatures to their source. This is the strength of Israel, who coronated Him at the Sea, and said, "Hashem shall rule forever." R. Berechya added: "They preceded na'aseh to nishma." In regards to the person himself, they have the power to sanctify the body and to elevate it through Torah and mitzvot.
In our days, "Let our lips substitute for bulls." (Hoshea 14:3) – It is in our power to draw close to G-d through prayer and to elevate ourselves, as it says, "G-d is close to all Hashem is close to all who call upon Him." (Tehillim 145:18)
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