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Getting Close
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

The third and central book of the Torah, Vayikra, is named after its opening word, which translates as “And He called.” Rashi explains that G-d calling Moses was a sign of the affection He had for him. Accordingly, “Vayikra” reflects the love G-d has for Moses, and by extension, for His people—the Jewish people.

What is the central theme of Vayikra? Korbanot, which is usually translated as sacrifices. That these laws are prefaced by the word Vayikra, a word which connotes affection, compels us to conclude that the sacrifices were expressions of G-d’s love for us.

Now the question is why does the offering of sacrifices serve as an expression of love and affection?

The Hebrew word korban actually means “closeness” rather than sacrifice. The korban was G-d’s way of letting us get close to Him. And, indeed, there is no greater sign of affection for another than allowing that person to get close to us.

How can a finite being get close to an Infinite G-d? The answer is that it is impossible. However, G-d, just as He transcends the finite world, so too does He transcend the limits of the infinite. His love for us motivates G-d to transcend the parameters of both the finite and the infinite.

One may still ask a question: Granted that the korban is not just a sacrifice but rather G-d’s way of demonstrating His love for us. But why did we have to offer animal sacrifices? And why do we pray for the restoration of the sacrificial order in the future Temple?

There is a two-part answer to this question:

First, our offering a korban involves seeking to fulfill G-d’s will. If we only give someone that we love a gift that we appreciate, then we are not expressing true love. Only when we give them what they want regardless of how we feel about it does it represent a gesture of genuine and unconditional love.

Second, we must reiterate that a korban is not really a sacrifice. A sacrifice implies destroying one thing to preserve something else which we deem more important. A korban, by contrast, represents preserving the original, albeit in a different and higher form.

The korban we offered in the Beit HaMikdash involved a representation of every form of existence. It required salt—a mineral; flour, oil and wine—vegetation; an animal and a Kohen—a human being. These four aspects of creation offered in the Temple represented all the inanimate, vegetative, animal and human forms that exist throughout the world. When the Kohen offered this korban he was in effect taking all of existence and elevating it to the level of the Divine. Nothing was sacrificed. Everything was elevated. Externally, it may look like a sacrifice, but the inner dynamic of the korban is the validation of all that is offered to G-d.

When a child grows and develops into an adolescent and then into an adult he or she does not sacrifice his or her childhood to become an adult. Rather, a child takes his or her childhood identity and elevates it into a higher form of life. So that while the state of child-hood remains in the adult personality, it is now an elevated child; who is absorbed and subsumed within the more sophisticated state of adulthood.

The ultimate manifestation of the korban ideal will be realized in the Messianic Age. All of existence will undergo the process of korban-elevation, not sacrifice. The changes that will occur will not destroy or negate anything that exists in the present that is positive. Gradually and seamlessly we will grow into a higher and more delightful state—the ultimate growth and validation; the ultimate korban, united with our Creator.

 

 


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