The Supreme Sacrifice
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d called Moshe, and spoke to him from the Appointed Tent, saying,
"Tell the Children of Israel that when any of them offer" (Vayikra
Although there was references to sacrifices in Sefer Shemos, it is in
Sefer Vayikra that we begin to look at them in greater detail.
The concept of sacrificing life for a "higher cause" is an old one,
and, quite a noble one -- when the cause is real and the person being
sacrificed has chosen such a "noble" end. If either the cause is fake
or the person unwilling, then, it goes from being noble to tragic.
This is why many people today have difficulty with the idea of animal
sacrifices -- certainly now and even in the past. After all, didn't
anyone consult the animals first to see whether or not they agreed to
their role in serving the "higher cause"? Or, such people don't
accept the "higher cause" as being real, and therefore, see the
sacrifice as being wanton wastage of life.
(As an aside, I once heard a talk show on a related issue that asked
the question: Would you sanction the sacrificing of animal life to
create cures for human sicknesses? One woman said that, even if her
own son were dying that still she would not allow an animal to be
killed to the save the life of her child. She said she loved her
child. Most other callers-in, however, vehemently disagreed, as did
the broadcaster, who difficulty fathoming this mother's logic.)
The second point is more difficult to deal within in the context of
this parshah sheet, because, it begs for proof that Torah is true.
Such a person is not grappling primarily with the concept of animal
sacrifices, but, with the validity of Torah, and requires a more
direct and intensive approach to the issue.
And, I can't answer for the animals either. I could tell you that the
sheep, should they be asked just before going, would tell you, "Yes,
we have lived for this moment," but, it would not be true. More than
likely, just as in the case of slaughtering animals for food, there
was probably resistance on the part of the sacrifice-to-be. Besides,
would you even believe me if I did tell you such a thing?
Then, WHAT can I tell you to help make sense of the concept of
sacrifices even in today's terms? I can only tell you what is wrong
with creation, and how sacrifices, according to (Kabbalistic)
Tradition come to rectify this, which, I believe, is to make them
noble, even when we can't get the animal to "agree" to its
1. ZUHAMA: One of the principle effects of Adam's and Chava's
interaction with the snake was that they became the recipient's of an
kind of indelible spiritual impurity called "zuhama" (Shabbos 146a).
Spiritual impurity is a tricky concept to begin with, since it is of
the spiritual realm, though it will eventually manifest itself
How to describe it? Well, imagine looking at the world without any
glasses, and then, slipping sun glasses on, which, for some reason
could not be removed after. Colored glass mean colored vision, and,
in time, your mind would adjust to the new way of looking at life,
and accept it as being real. Eventually your judgment of reality
would become inaccurate, because, your decisions in life would be
based upon how life appears to you, not as it actually is.
That's what zuhama did, does. It was a spiritual infiltration of the
negative spiritual forces ("Chitzonios" or "K'lipos") that had been
embodied in the First Snake, and which colored the way we related to
the spiritual world, and, by extension, the physical world. It was a
partial deadening of our spiritual senses, and therefore, ability to
relate to G-d. Thus, zuhama is the true source of sin.
Now, the first thing to know is that creation consists of four levels
of existence, which, in Hebrew, are: Domaim, Tzomayach, Chai, and,
Medabehr -- Silent, Vegetation, Animal, and, Speaking. The middle two
of the list are self-explanatory, whereas the first one refers to the
non-animate (mineral) world, as "Medabehr" refers to the level of man.
According to Kabbalah, the "infection" of zuhama was only on the
first three levels of existence. However, this still affects man,
since he, too, possesses all FOUR aspects of creation within him,
either directly in him or through interaction with them (such as
eating vegetables or animals). And, it certainly affects the animals
world, since that is what they are made of and what sustains them.
Thus, says Kabbalah, when an animal is burned on the altar,
tremendous "tikun" occurs. The wood that is burned is the spiritual
representative of the Vegetation World, while the salt, which is
mandatory for all animal sacrifices, is the "Domaim" stand-in. The
animal, of course, is the "Chai," and, when all three are consumed on
the altar, then, the zuhama itself in creation is weakened, along the
way to its eventual and complete obliteration in the time of Moshiach.
Another way of saying this is that, as a result of the sin of Adam
HaRishon, he became "physicalized." According to the Arizal, prior to
the sin, Adam and Chava possessed skin that was as translucent as
fingernails, because it was still more light than skin, like Moshe
Rabbeinu when he emitted light after G-d passed by him at the end of
Parashas Ki Sisa. It was called "Kesones Ohr" -- spelled:
aleph-vav-raish," as in "light."
Like steam to water when "H2O" molecules are distanced from their
source of heat, so, too, did Adam's "Clothing of Light" turned to
"Clothing of Skin" -- "Kesones Ohr," spelled: ayin-vav-raish, as in
"skin" -- when Adam was distanced from the Source of Life, G-d. His
skin went from being translucent like fingernails to opaque as we
have, thus suppressing and containing its own light and the light our
souls on the "inside."
Today, when we talk to people, we do so as physical beings who only
"see" physical beings. We all but completely ignore the holy soul
within every human being, because, it is often so hard to detect.
Chazal tell us that whither man goes so too does creation. In other
words, if mankind's nature changes and becomes more physical, so too,
be necessity, will creation's. Thus, the physicalization of man
resulted in the physicalization of the world as well.
History is supposed to be a process of reversing this trend,
eventually back to the spirituality of Adam HaRishon before the sin.
And, even though this won't really FULLY happen until Techiyas
HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), still, the process can begin,
has begun, and can be furthered through our actions, especially
through sacrifices when they are consumed by the fire on the altar.
That is the first level of purpose of sacrifices. We will now discuss
the second, b"H.
The priest must offer all of it by burning it upon the altar; it is a
Burnt-Offering, a Fire-Offering, a pleasing fragrance to G-d.
And, because man and creation became more spiritually distanced from
G-d, another was of describing added constriction of G-d's Holy
Light, the result was increased "din," or, "judgment."
Thus, a second reason for sacrifices is that they come to "sweeten"
(i.e., rectify and elevate) the judgment and change it from the
"Trait of Judgment" to that of Mercy. For, Domaim and Tzomayach --
the essence of physical creation -- are the result of the "Strong
Judgment" and physicality. That is, the physical world is a
"projection" of the reality of the distancing of the lower spiritual
worlds from the Light of G-d, which is why they are SO physical, and,
hide the hand of G-d SO well.
Hence, when they -- the wood, the salt, and the animal -- are offered
to G-d they became "sweetened" and "fragranced" (i.e., pleasing to
G-d) when they are consumed by the fire on the altar, for, they
ascend upwards. And, this does not simply mean that particular
animal, wood, and salt, but, the entire categories of Chai,
Tzomayach, and Domaim (DTz"C) for all of creation.
You see, people think that Western Society is as materialistic as it
is today solely as a function of technological advancement and
greater distribution of wealth. But, those two particular points are
themselves just results of another situation, and that is, a lack of
elevation of DTz"C.
People choose their priorities in life based upon what they
understand about the purpose of life, and their role within that
master plan. And, they often draw their conclusions based upon the
world around them, and if that world lacks spiritual elevation, then,
so will their decisions and their life.
Two-way mirror is a good parable. From one side, the reflecting side,
all a person sees is a mirror-reflection of himself, though the glass
hides what's actually "inside": people who can see and evaluate him.
If the person doesn't know better, he may walk up to the mirror and
perform private actions, such as brush his hair, check his teeth --
whatever people do in front of mirrors when in the privacy of their
own home -- and become totally embarrassed later when he discovers
LIFE is like that TWO-WAY mirror. We look at the Mineral World, and
the Vegetation World, or, the Animal World, and even the Human World,
and assume that all things are as spiritually shallow as they appear
to be on the surface. But, they are far from that, and we will be
totally humiliated in the end because of the way we profaned creation.
The prophets speak about how, after Moshiach comes (bHb"b), the world
will be full of "da'as," godly knowledge that will allow us to look
at creation from the "other side" of the "glass," from the side that
allows us to see the true, intrinsic holiness of creation. And, by
burning these elements on the holy altar, in a holy way, for a holy
purpose, sacrifices act as a way to begin "burning" up the layers.
Fasting for Torah reasons acts in the same way. The "burning up" of
the fat of our bodies by abstaining from eating is supposed to
resemble the burning up of the fat that was consumed on the altar
from animal sacrifices. There is even such a declaration made at the
end of the Minchah-Shemonah Esrai when a person has fasted for his
own personal reasons (as opposed to for the sake of a communal fast).
And, of course, being self-sacrificing for Torah-learning (either for
your own learning or for that of others) and mitzvos is one of the
highest methods for achieving this result. G-d looks at our
self-sacrifice for Torah and mitzvos as if we allowed ourselves to be
consumed on the altar of spirituality. And, the more sincere we are
about what we do, the more pleasant the fragrance of our actions
becomes, and, the more we earn mercy, as opposed to judgment.
The third and final reason for sacrifices is far more esoteric,
Kabbalistic, and difficult to explain.
If you recall from last week's session, we said:
Children's stories and morals aside, the reduction of the moon's
light represents one of the deepest of Kabbalistic ideas. It is an
allusion to the fact that a very holy light, for the sake of creation
and free-will, was forced to leave its holy abode in the Sefiros, and
"descend," spiritually-speaking, to a far less godly "environment."
In Sefiros-terms, the light to which we refer is that of the sefirah
called "Malchus of Atzilus," the last level of sefirah said to be
imbued with intrinsic godliness. Like the unwilling soul that is
forced down to occupy the mundane body and bring both the body and
itself to fulfillment, so, too, did the light of the Malchus of
Atzilus go down to act as a kind of "soul" for the Lower World, so
that both could fulfill their raison d'EAtre.
Thus, creation is one of those strange concepts that is a very
non-deal situation for the sake of an ideal purpose. It is not ideal
because it means, by necessity, that G-d's light has to be
constricted to the point that even a Holocaust can occur. But, all of
this is for the sake of man, that he can exist, have free-will, and,
earn an eternal portion in the World-to-Come.
We do this by "undoing" creation, that is, by reversing the situation
and causing the Malchus of Atzilus to become spiritually buoyed" to
higher levels until it is able to return to its proper place. This
won't fully happen until the seventh millennium, but, in the
meantime, sacrifices assist with the process.
In a sense, as long as the Lower World remains spiritually heavy and
anchored at the bottom of the spiritual sea, the Malchus of Atzilus,
the life-line of all of it is held down as well. This is the result
of a lack of spiritual connection of mankind to creation, which
leaves it vulnerable to feel a need to service the animal side of our
In fact, on a recent trip outside of Israel, I stayed in a hotel that
offered "Pay-TV" through the television in the room. Looking at the
program they provided, there were three choices offered, two of which
were suitable for children's viewing, and one which was called "Adult
Entertainment," which, I assume, needs no explanation.
But, if you think about it, you will see that what they call "Adult
Entertainment" is anything but that. For, an adult is someone who
should not feel the need to have to take that which is holy to G-d
and mankind and profane it by making it a form of viewing
entertainment. An true "adult" is one who has the spiritual and
intellectual maturity to know to preserve the holiness of physical
intimacy by leaving Hollywood and the like out of it.
It is that culture, and anything that smacks of it, that keeps the
Malchus of Atzilus from being able to return "home," so-to-speak, and
creation from achieving its fulfillment. And, that being the case,
all else that goes wrong in life from the lack of godly knowledge is
free to occur.
However, as soon as the lower worlds become spiritually "lighter,"
and are able to become elevated, then, so too does the Malchus of
Atzilus begin its own ascent. And thus, by consuming on the altar the
elements of creation that were most affected by the snake, they
become spiritually rectified, spiritually "lighter."
And, as a result, the Malchus of Atzilus is able to move in the
direction of its proper position, and mankind, in the direction of
For the Conductor, on the Gittis, a psalm by Dovid. G-d, our Master,
how mighty is Your Name throughout the earth, Who places Your majesty
on the heavens. (Tehillim 8:1-2),/i>
This is the beginning of this psalm, but, perhaps its most telling
line is the posuk:
What is frail man that You should remember him, and the son of mortal
man that You should be mindful of him? Yet, you have made him but
slightly less than angels, and crowned him with soul and splendor.
You give him dominion over Your handiwork, everything you placed
under his feet. (5-7)
What a difference between Dovid HaMelech's attitude towards man's
place within the scheme of things, and, the prevailing Western one,
which goes something like this:
"What? Man frail? Says who? Unimportant? G-d is lucky we even pay any
attention to Him, if and when we do!"
Not that anyone actually says the words, but, it is implied in
Western man's attitude towards life and G-d. When we take life for
granted, and everything life encompasses; when we make light of what
is serious in life and fail to live with an air of humility, we
basically say that we are more important than anything else.
We are like a son-in-law who holds an important position in the
father-in-law's firm, but only because of the father's love for his
daughter, and therefore, her husband. In all honesty, had the same
person not married the boss's daughter and had shown up for the job,
he would barely have been hired for lower management, let alone
Yet, after a short while of bossing subordinate around, sitting in a
cushy executive office, and having access to the company credit card,
the son-in-law begins to take himself too seriously. He begins to act
as if he earned his position in his own merit, which is often the
first sign that he did not, and, humility come confidence eventually
erodes into blatant arrogance -- and a confrontation with his boss
Or, in the case of mankind in general, a confrontation with our boss
Sheep and cattle, all of them, even the beasts of the field; the
birds of the sky and the fish of the sea; for man even traverses the
lanes of the sea. (8)
Okay, they may not be "employees" and subordinates in the typical
sense of the word, but, they do represent the phenomenal dominion G-d
has given man over creation. They also represent vulnerability to
man's will and strengths, and therefore, our own potential to be
This was also one element of the sacrificing process that drove the
point home to man how dear the life of creation and aspects of
creation must be to us. If any one has ever seen a pet being put to
"sleep," or, an animal that was run over by a car and killed, then,
they know how easily emotions are affected by the death of animals
that seem to have an innocence about them. I feel great remorse when
I accidentally hit a butterfly while driving on the highway.
Animal sacrifices were a solemn event. They were commanded by G-d,
and, like with any mitzvah we do, we carried them out with loyalty.
The entire universe belongs to G-d, including the animals, and no one
cares for them more than He does; they're HIS creations.
It is no coincidence that their blood resembles our blood, and, that
they possess many similar characteristics to humans. Seeing animals
should invoke strong feelings of mercy, though not at the cost of our
feelings for G-d, Torah, and fellow human beings.
We may have dominion over the world and all other living peoples, but
not because we earned it, but because it was gifted to us. Sometimes
we can realize this through mature, spiritual, and godly means. Other
times, and, historically, it seems to be the vast majority of times,
we have to be reminded of this through the destruction of others
because of us.
Unbridled human pride can be an ugly thing. There are few things more
noble, more godly than a humble person.