Monday, April 07, 2014

The Secret of the Sacrifice

Used to be, back when we had the Holy Temple, we had a unique way to relate to God.

If we survived a trip through the dangerous desert, and in happiness wanted to express our thanks to Hashem, we visited the Holy Temple and offered a sacrifice.

If we mismanaged our priorities and transgressed, and in sadness wanted to ask pardon for our sin, we visited the Holy Temple and offered a sacrifice.

If we just felt good and wanted to volunteer appreciation to God, we visited the Holy Temple and offered a sacrifice.

Every form of communication we could have with God came by way of a singular form of interaction - sacrificing an animal. The animal could be a calf, sheep or goat, or a dove.

The question to ask, of course, is - what's behind this ceremony? Why this avenue to express the relationship a Jew has with God?

Couldn't they come up with a better form of expression? A guy wants to give thanks to God for saving him during a trek through the desert, so he goes to Jerusalem, pays 100 shekels for a calf, has it burned on the altar, until nothing is left; This is the way to communicate to God? Would it not be better to thank God in a synagogue, then take the 100 shekels and contribute it? He could buy the synagogue a new curtain, or give a poor man some charity or to a school to pay their teachers, etc.

Why burn an animal, from which nothing is left?

And what about the sinner who wants a pardon? Would it not be better to fast, beg forgiveness, than to offer an animal sacrifice?

What sense is there in this; What connection does an animal sacrifice have with what he does?

In fact, this question bothered most of our great sages? What's with this cult of sacrifices?

Another question: Regarding sacrifices, God is said to "smell the great smell", or to "have it as His bread", etc. Any ear that hears such talk can only wonder at the crudeness or heresy of such anthropomorphic talk. Does God need food, or can He enjoy a smell? The Rambam says, "He has no body, nor any resemblance to one" - so what gives? Let alone that burning an animal smells horrible!

When Noah emerged from the Ark and found the world completely desolate, he offered thanks to God with a sacrifice. The entire flood and world devastation, which eliminated all evil from the face of the earth, did not satisfy God's anger, so to speak. Only when "He smelled the good odor of Noah's sacrifice" was God appeased and then promised "that no more will a flood destroy the earth, because man is bad to start with anyhow."

When Korach and his cohorts were swallowed by the earth, for their uprising against Moses, Jews gathered to complain against Moses and Aaron. Moses sensed God's anger and quickly ordered Aaron to bring a burnt offering. By the time Aaron got around to it, 14,000 Jews lost their lives. When God sensed the burnt offering, "the plague ceased!" A burnt herbal offering is also a sort of sacrifice.

Similarly, when King David realized he caused a plague among the Jewish people by counting them, his sacrifice stopped the plague - albeit after tens of thousands died meanwhile.

So again, what's behind a sacrificial expression that subdues His anger, that stops a plague? Not prayer, or anything else - only a sacrifice can allay God's anger against us. What's the secret behind the sacrifice?

There must be a good chassidic answer. I thought I had it, but, in fact, I know it not!

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