Each of the five books of the Torah has its unique focus. Sefer Bereishis is focused on the Creator having established distinct boundaries within His universe that we must be respect. Just as there is a clear difference between day and night, land and sea, heaven and earth, good and bad — so too, there are inviolate distinctions between animal and animal, animal and human, man and woman, etc. Speciation is the law of nature and it is incumbent upon humankind to maintain and respect those distinctions.
The emphasis that the Torah places on respect for individual rights and property underscores the essence of speciation and the intent of the Creator. Each and every one of us was created as a distinct and independent creature because each and every one of us has a unique purpose and mission. Our responsibility is to create and respect an environment where every individual component and species can realize its individual mission and purpose. This is the intent of the Creator.
Sefer Shemos focuses on the Creator’s reason for speciation. At the end of Bereishis, the Jews were a mere family of 70. At the beginning of Shemos, we had become a nation of millions. The reason why we were separated out from the rest of the nations and chosen to be the treasured people of the Creator, was for the purpose of receiving the Torah. The Torah explains how we are to behave differently from the rest of the nations, and clearly delineates our individual and collective responsibilities. Whereas Bereishis established that speciation and separation is natural within the laws of nature, Sefer Shemos explains the reason for that speciation and separation as it pertains to the Jewish People.
Sefer Vayikra focuses on the ideal lifestyle that should be if we embrace the purpose and intent of the Creator. Prior to the giving of the Torah, the Creator stated: “You are to be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. In unambiguous terms, Hashem told us that He wanted us to behave in a manner that was “priestly and holy,” meaning, unique and different. In the same manner that the Kohanim and Leviyim facilitated our service to Hashem; so too, we were to be the priests to the world and facilitate their understanding of their responsibilities to each other and to G-d. Sefer Vayikra outlines in terms of the service in the Bais Hamikdash the ideal lifestyle of the Jew and the human.
It is important to note that so long as we are in exile and the Bais Hamikdash has not been rebuilt, our daily Tefilos – Prayers are a replacement for the Avodah – service. We begin our daily Tefilos with the “Korbonos” – a detailed description of the daily service that “would have been”. Throughout our davening we beseech Hashem for our return to Israel and the service in the Temple. The physical layout of every Shul models the structure of the Bais Hamikdash. We daven facing Yerushalayim and the place of the Bais Hamikdash. On Yom Tov the Kohanim and Leviyim imitate their ancestors of old by “duchaning” (the Priestly Blessing). The emphasis that is placed on the service in the Bais Hamikdash clearly shows the importance of the Avodah in our daily observances and interactions.
The primary expression of our devotion to Hashem was through Korbanos – offerings that were designed to bring us closer to G-d. Every element of the service was an important lesson for teaching us how to devote ourselves to accomplishing the Creator’s intent. These offerings were comprised of animal sacrifice, meal offerings, blood and wine libations, the burning of incense, and the participation of the Kohanim in facilitating the Korban. Additionally, there were daily activities performed by the High Priest, the Kohanim, and the Leviyim that framed the primary activity of offering sacrifices.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, in an essay on 1:2, explained the significance of “bringing Korbonos”:
…the concept of Korban negates the notion of “sacrifice” as an act of destruction or renunciation. Moreover, it indicates that the Korban is intended to fulfill a need of the one who makes the Korban rather than to satisfy the desires of the one to whom the Korban is offered. It is the desire of the one who brings the Korban that something of his should enter into a closer, intimate relationship with G-d. The purpose of the Korban is to seek “nearness of G-d”. It is this nearness of G-d which the Jew regards as the highest, indeed the only attainable, good. Without G-d’s nearness, he feels “beastlike”, stripped of all those qualities which elevate him to the destiny of a human being and whose values he regards as the sole standard against which to measure his own outlook on life and his own concept of human happiness – concepts that become clear to him when he enters the halls of G-d’s sanctuary.
The Western mentality often finds animal sacrifice to be barbaric and offensive. It is important that we confront our own views and examine them in the light of Torah philosophy and insight. The Torah discussed animal sacrifice from the very dawn of time in the stories of Kayin and Hevel as well as with Noach after the Mabul. These expressions of devotion on their part were accepted by Hashem as appropriate and loving. The place of the human within nature is to give purpose and meaning to creation. The extent to which the world is involved in enhancing our relationship with G-d is the extent to which nature accomplishes her purpose. Therefore; every species and component of G-d’s world, including the animal world, is available to us for serving the Creator. In the same manner that we use the animal world to nourish our physical needs and recognize this as purposeful and proper; so too we can use the animal world to nourish our spirituality.
Every sacrifice required careful preparation. The animal was first inspected for blemishes and if proper, it was washed, the owner would do “smicha” (leaning with both hands on the head of the animal) and shected – slaughtered.
Every Korban required that its blood be gathered in a vessel and sprinkled on the walls of the Alter. Depending on the type of Korban, parts of the animal would be burnt on the Mizbeach and parts would be shared between the Kohanim and the individual who brought the offering.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.