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Friday, April 03, 2020

Parshat Vayikra

This opening parsha of Sefer Vayikra serves as a logical continuation of the final parshiyot of Sefer Shmot that we read last week. After detailing the precise construction of the Mishkan the Torah now describes the service that was to take place there. To the modern-day mind, the world of korbanot, animal sacrifice, seems quite foreign and difficult to comprehend. Yet, it is the focus of the Torah for many prakim and a topic often discussed by our nevi’im. Ironically, much of the critique leveled against Israel by the prophets emphasizes that God does not need his people to perform korbanot. But it does have an important purpose for the people, a purpose we learn from this week’s Haftarah.

In this reading, Yishayahu condemns Israel for ignoring the korbanot owed to Hashem while offering their sacrifices to other “gods.” The opening words strike the theme that runs throughout the selection. Am zu yatzarti li (I fashioned this people) and tehillati y’sapeiru (so that they tell my praise.) The very purpose of choosing Israel and saving them time and time again was so that they would teach the world of God’s greatness through their service to Him. The sacrificial rite would be one of the ways to educate a pagan world.

Making offerings to a non-corporeal divinity was unique enough in ancient times to have other nations take notice. Through the korbanot, the Jewish nation would be able to fulfill the mission it was created for as the other nations would learn of the One God. This was the request made by Shlomo HaMelech at the inauguration of the First Temple, i.e., to have foreigners bring sacrifices to God in the Beit Hamikdash. This also explains why the bulk of the Haftarah speaks of Hashem’s greatness. By doing so, it allowed the nation to understand why it is absurd to compare Him to any other worshipped power or to even think of worshipping any other power.

In addition to these powerful reasons, there is yet another purpose for emphasizing the sacrificial rite both here and in the Torah reading: Hashem makes it clear not only who may be worshipped but how He is to be worshipped. One of the reasons for our survival as a distinct group, despite every reason to disappear, is that we kept our mode of worship as it was passed down to us for generations. And, although varying traditions may have developed over the thousands of years (and thousands of miles), a Jew from Ukraine could walk into a synagogue in Algeria and find familiar tefillot and customs.

Our korbanot and tefillot have kept us unique and distinct over the many generations. And we still use them to fulfill our ancient mission—“tehillati y’sapeiru”—to tell God’s praises.

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

Why We Sacrifice

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

Parshat Vayikra

This opening parsha of Sefer Vayikra serves as a logical continuation of the final parshiyot of Sefer Shmot that we read last week. After detailing the precise construction of the Mishkan the Torah now describes the service that was to take place there. To the modern-day mind, the world of korbanot, animal sacrifice, seems quite foreign and difficult to comprehend. Yet, it is the focus of the Torah for many prakim and a topic often discussed by our nevi’im. Ironically, much of the critique leveled against Israel by the prophets emphasizes that God does not need his people to perform korbanot. But it does have an important purpose for the people, a purpose we learn from this week’s Haftarah.

In this reading, Yishayahu condemns Israel for ignoring the korbanot owed to Hashem while offering their sacrifices to other “gods.” The opening words strike the theme that runs throughout the selection. Am zu yatzarti li (I fashioned this people) and tehillati y’sapeiru (so that they tell my praise.) The very purpose of choosing Israel and saving them time and time again was so that they would teach the world of God’s greatness through their service to Him. The sacrificial rite would be one of the ways to educate a pagan world.

Making offerings to a non-corporeal divinity was unique enough in ancient times to have other nations take notice. Through the korbanot, the Jewish nation would be able to fulfill the mission it was created for as the other nations would learn of the One God. This was the request made by Shlomo HaMelech at the inauguration of the First Temple, i.e., to have foreigners bring sacrifices to God in the Beit Hamikdash. This also explains why the bulk of the Haftarah speaks of Hashem’s greatness. By doing so, it allowed the nation to understand why it is absurd to compare Him to any other worshipped power or to even think of worshipping any other power.

In addition to these powerful reasons, there is yet another purpose for emphasizing the sacrificial rite both here and in the Torah reading: Hashem makes it clear not only who may be worshipped but how He is to be worshipped. One of the reasons for our survival as a distinct group, despite every reason to disappear, is that we kept our mode of worship as it was passed down to us for generations. And, although varying traditions may have developed over the thousands of years (and thousands of miles), a Jew from Ukraine could walk into a synagogue in Algeria and find familiar tefillot and customs.

Our korbanot and tefillot have kept us unique and distinct over the many generations. And we still use them to fulfill our ancient mission—“tehillati y’sapeiru”—to tell God’s praises.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.