In the times of the Temple, the most exalted form of worship was through sacrifices brought to Jerusalem. But, now the Jewish people have lived for centuries without the Holy Temple. While generation upon generation of Jews have studied the laws of the sacrifices with the unextinguished desire to see those mitzvot fulfilled in their lifetime, the rabbinic authorities found hope and comfort in the words of the Book of Proverbs: “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to God than sacrifice” (21:3).
While this may seem a simple idea to those who have never lived in a time when ritual sacrifice was customary, the rabbis felt that it was necessary to come to an understanding regarding this distinction. Several explanations are listed in Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:3:
1) Sacrifices are able to bring atonement only for sins committed unwittingly. Acts of justice and righteousness are able to atone for sins committed both unwittingly and intentionally.
2) Only humans can offer sacrifices. Acts of kindness are performed by both humans and angels. Through acts of kindness, humankind is therefore able to emulate angels.
3) One receives the rewards and spiritual benefits of sacrifices only in this world. Acts of justice and righteousness have an impact in both this world and in the world to come.
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