Friday, March 19, 2010

Sacrifice and Innocence

Inherent in traditional Jewish thought is a longing for the Holy Temple. Many Jews long for the days when columns of smoke rose from the flames of the altar as devout worshipers brought their sacrifices to the priests.

Despite the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of animal sacrifice, thousands of pages have been written exploring and explaining the meaning of the sacrifices. On the simplest level, the Hebrew term for sacrifices is korbanot...the root of which, "k-r-v," is also the root of the word "close." The sacrifices in the Temple were meant to help the Jewish people draw close to God.

Wait...what? Let's be honest, most Jews of our era find the idea of animal sacrifice uncomfortable and strange. Killing an animal to draw close to God? But, we live in an age when a person must struggle in order to even conceive of the spiritual realm, let alone to begin to understand it. We are rational and scientific ... and, in many ways, we have lost our innocence.

In fact, Rav Assi, one of the great Talmudic sages, notes in Leviticus Rabbah 7:3, that children should first be taught the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra - the third book of the Pentateuch) rather than Genesis (Bereshit - the first book of the Pentateuch). He reasoned that the purity and innocence of childhood allowed children to have an easier time understanding the pure motives of the sacrificial service.

Because we as a people, and humankind on the whole, have lost both our innocence and much of our spiritual connectivity, it is much harder for a twenty-first century Jew to relate to the sacrificial service. It is the Jewish belief and hope, however, that someday the Temple will be rebuilt and all such esoteric matters will once again be understood.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Ed Greenberg said...

In olden times, people kept animals for the purpose of making use of their parts, and so killed them routinely in order to obtain the food and other products that came from them.

To bring a sacrifice to the Temple required that one give of his assets. It was truly a sacrifice. Not the killing and burning, but the parting with and donating of the animal.

If you had ten sheep, suddenly you had nine.

We don't relate to the slaughter and ritual disposition of the animal, but we can certainly relate to parting with our assets in the service of Hashem. Today we call it Tzedaka.