Saturday, June 24, 2017

Get Off the Sidelines! A Charge to My Fellow Chareidim

       While I love to share words of Torah and encouragement with the greater public, I have often shied away from commenting with my personal opinions on social and political issues in public forums as it is so easy to misunderstand or misrepresent the true purpose behind a person’s statement. Furthermore, while there is a great amount of purposeful, useful, and intelligent discussion to be found in these forums, there is at least ten times that amount in hurtful, insulting, and frankly, unintelligent comments, that I generally hesitate to offer a contribution. However, due to a personal experience in the past week, I feel responsible to make my voice heard and insure that the community I associate myself with is well-represented, and that those I feel are in the wrong are acknowledged as such.

       This past Wednesday night, June 21, at around 9:30PM, three religious Jews, soldiers in the IDF, were verbally abused by a mob while davening Maariv at the “Shteiblach” in the Beis Yisrael neighborhood in Yerushalayim. The police were called in to escort the soldiers out of the neighborhood safely. This is just the latest incident of violence against religious soldiers here in Eretz Yisrael, but this one has prompted me to share my feelings, primarily because I was there.
      At the time, I didn’t know what was happening. “Shteebs” is a minyan “factory”, with five different rooms allowing minyanim to be going on an almost 24-hour basis. While this incident was happening in Room “Bet”, I was davening further back in Room “Hay”. In the middle of our Minyan, a huge tumult began outside with well over a hundred people gathering in the outer courtyard of the shul. Huge swarms of people were pushing back and forth, there was screaming and yelling, to the point that nothing else could be heard inside our room, let alone being able to daven. When davening finished and I walked outside, all I could see was a mass of people around the entrance of “Bet”. The first thought that crossed my mind was, “terrorist attack”, and when I heard the arrival of the police, I decided it was best to leave first and ask questions later.
       I found out on the news around an hour later what had actually taken place. Three frum Jews, Orthodox Jews, had been davening, only to be met with abuse, including the vilest of insults, “Nazi”, as if they had perpetrated the deaths of millions, simply because they were soldiers in the IDF. (I had heard those calls while I was there and had assumed they were being directed at an Arab terrorist.) My first thought was pure embarrassment; not sadness, though that followed quickly after, but embarrassment.
       I identify as a Chareidi Orthodox Jew, whether I’m required to put an “ultra” before the “Orthodox” depends on how much variance you give to the Chareidi label. While I belong to the halachic camp that serving in the IDF is not a mitzvah and also believe it is spiritually detrimental, I do not believe it is an aveirah; after all, there are many reasons why one might join the army. (Not that it matters, but I have many family members and close friends who have served in the IDF. I do my best to support the soldiers of my country both socially and spiritually.) It is certainly possible for a religious person to make a Kiddush Hashem while serving in the IDF.
       But why did this particular incident hit me so hard? This certainly wasn’t the first instance of something like this happening, no one even got hurt! The obvious explanation is because I actually was present in this instance, and that certainly plays a part, but it’s not everything. It is more about the question I keep asking myself: What would I have done if I knew what was happening while I was at shul? Would I have jumped into the fray and defended the soldiers? Would I have yelled back at the protesters as they shouted? Would I have done nothing?
       Before I asked myself that, I needed to ask myself what should I have done? Obviously, it would be suicide to take on a mob, even one that was not engaging in physical violence. However, I feel that doesn’t release me of the responsibility to do something, just in a different format.
       The people who are abusing and assaulting IDF soldiers may be called Chareidim, but they don’t represent our community. They are a minority; to the best of my knowledge, no known figure in the Chareidi world has proposed or even simply supported the abuse of soldiers. They are extremists; furthermore, they didn’t become extremists because of these incidents, they were extremists even beforehand, but it wasn’t necessary to speak out the distinction. Everyone I’ve spoken to about this incident has felt the same way as me, actually even stronger than I do. But even so, and without regard for any other social or religious circles, we as Chareidim have the responsibility to speak up and say loudly what we clearly believe. It’s important for us to make a clear distinction between what we consider right and wrong.
       We do not support the abuse of Jews. Whatever disagreements exist over the complicated issue of serving in the IDF, they are not with the soldiers themselves. Any person who acts in a manner similar to what I witnessed Wednesday night is wrong and is not affiliated with our Torah Hashkafah. Anyone who viewed that spectacle should feel anger and embarrassment. To be fair, even though there were around 100 people at Shteebs during the incident, I have no idea how many were actively involved in the abuse. However, none of them were working against the abusers either. That someone even similar to us hashkafically could act in such a way should anger us all.

       So what should we do to combat this? Attacking a mob is never a good idea, but vocalizing to the greater community our disagreements with these actions instead of keeping it to private conversations is something we can all do. We can let the minority know that they are the minority. And when we aren’t up against a mob and see such abuse taking place, we should make it very clear to those perpetuating such acts that they are wrong. By knowing there is someone there against them, perhaps they’ll then think twice before engaging again. Any Chilul Hashem those three soldiers might make by serving in the IDF shouldn’t compare to the one we make by standing on the sidelines.

Nation's Wisdom is a project which encourages the masses to share their thoughts and wisdom on a variety of Torah ideas such as Parshah, Halachah, and Hashkafah among others. For more information or to have your idea published, please click here or email us at 

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Monday, January 23, 2017

The Purpose of the Akeidah and Yitzchak's Role

This is the first in a series exploring different ideas in the Torah with  implications for Jewish History.

Binding over Sacrifice
       While studying the events of Akeidas Yitzchak,[1] the following questions can be discussed. First, this event is referred to throughout Chazal as Akeidas Yitzchak, “The Binding of Isaac.” While this is an important part of the story,[2] it was not the purpose if this nisayon. When Hashem commands Avraham to bring Yitzchak up as a sacrifice,[3] which he succeeds in doing, the fact that he bound Yitzchak up is just a detail, which while important, doesn’t seem to be a reason to call the event after it. As the main purpose was to consecrate Yitzchak as a sacrifice, perhaps a more fitting name would have been “Hakravas Yitzchak” “The Consecration of Yitzchak.”
The Exposure of Akeidas Yitzchak
       Secondly, Akeidas Yitzchak is discussed throughout Chazal as one of the most important events in Jewish History. Perhaps most importantly, we always mention it on Rosh Hashanah, while we are being judged, that the merit of Akeidas Yitzchak should allow the Jewish People to have a good year.[4] It is also commonly used as an example to the world, including the Jewish People how far Avraham was willing to go to serve Hashem. However, this doesn’t seem like an effective method. First, to advertise ourselves as a nation ready to sacrifice our children, particularly when we abhor human sacrifice, seems counterintuitive.[5] Furthermore, in a practical sense, the events of Bereishis, as they don’t teach us mitzvos or other laws, are told over in order to teach us life lessons. However, the story of the Akeidah is very difficult to relate to; in which case, what life lessons can we learn from it? The Akeidah does not seem to be a good example to use to represent our nation.     
        The Akeidah was a private matter. This idea is strengthened based on an explanation in Emek Davar on the words “Lech Lecha.”[6] In that instance, the phrase means that Avraham’s journey to Eretz Yisrael would be for his benefit; however, in other cases, this phrase means to keep the matter private. By the Akeidah, Hashem tells Avraham “Lech Lecha”,[7] meaning he shouldn’t tell anyone where’s he’s going or what he’s doing. It appears that the story of the Akeidah was not supposed to be publicized.
       This explanation is strengthened by the fact that Avraham went to perform the sacrifice alone with Yitzchak, leaving his two attendants at the bottom of the mountain;[8] also, while other nisyonos were extremely public affairs, by the Akeidah, Avraham did not tell anyone where he was going. That fact that it was written in the Torah doesn’t answer the question; the Torah records great acts of our ancestors, which certainly includes the Akeidah. Additionally, even though the story is known centuries later, consider the fact that no one living at that time ever heard the story!

Purpose of Nisyonos
       Misconception of nisyonos. In order to understand the Akeidah, we must first discuss what are nisyonos and their purpose.[9] The word “nisayon” is commonly explained as a test given by Hashem to humans. While this makes sense contextually, it doesn’t make sense from a Torah outlook. As He is all-knowing, Hashem knows whether a person will succeed or fail a nisayon, in which case, it’s not much of a test! If it is a test, it can only be considered a test from a human perspective.
       Pre-nisyonos. Every person has the ability to reach high levels of spirituality, however, these levels are not given to us freely and cannot be reached all at once; the potential for that spirituality lies dormant inside a person waiting to become active. In order to facilitate this change, Hashem presents a person with a nisayon, meaning a challenge or opportunity, which will present the person with the ability to access this spirituality. Once the person attains this spiritual ability, they can make it part of their everyday life, relating to the world on a higher spiritual plane than before. If they don’t, the potential remains dormant. However, this opportunity will only be presented to someone with the ability to appreciate and access it; otherwise, there would be no purpose in it. Ultimately, Hashem’s goal is to grant someone spirituality, not to see them fail. Below, this process is presented in greater detail.
       The nisayon process.[10] Before presenting a person with a nisayon, Hashem gives a person the ability to access some of their latent spirituality. For a time, a person is influenced by a higher level of spirituality (with no effort involved on his part) and can act accordingly. After a time, Hashem removes that level and returns the person to his original status, and then presents the person with a challenge that someone on the higher level of spirituality would be able to overcome. If the spiritual effect has taken ahold of that person, he will be able to access that level on his own and overcome the nisayon. If he ‘passes’, he is permanently granted that level of spirituality.
       If he is unable to overcome the challenge, he does not lose anything; he simply stays at the level of spirituality he was at before Hashem gave him anything extra. He has not done anything wrong, he simply is not ready to operate on a higher level of spirituality at the present time. Sooner or later, Hashem will present him with the opportunity to try again.  
       The choice is yours. The idea of a nisayon is also that the person has a choice whether or not to take the spiritual opportunity presented before him. Therefore, only righteous people are given nisyonos since the possibility exists that they will choose the spiritual option, while wicked people, who will surely decline, are not given such opportunities.[11] Nisyonos are ultimately for the good of the person who receives them, making them more of an opportunity than a test.
       A waving flag. Nisyonos are not only used to showcase to a person his own potential. The Hebrew word for nisayon is spelled “ניסיון”, with the root being “נס”, meaning banner. Hashem uses the nisayon as an opportunity to broadcast to the world[12] the greatness of those who serve Him. Achieving a nisayon shows this person to be a true Eved Hashem, and Hashem wants the world to recognize this person for who he is and Who the person is making this sacrifice for.[13] In this manner, a nisayon acts as a waving flag for all to notice.   
The Nisyonos of Avraham Avinu
Documented Trials
       While every person who has ever existed has been presented with nisyonos, the only definitively stated documented account of a specific nisayon given to an individual is by the Akeidah. Chazal learn that Avraham was presented with a total of ten nisyonos. The fact that they are definitively documented in the Torah means that there is a reason for this number of, and these particular scenarios being used as nisyonos.
       Furthermore, the only accounts we have in the Torah of Hashem speaking to Avraham are in connection to his nisyonos. After the Akeidah, his final nisayon, we have no other record of them speaking. It appears the sole purpose of Hashem’s conversing with Avraham was in order to give him these nisyonos; meaning that Avraham’s nisyonos were vital to his relationship with Hashem. Let’s examine the purpose and pattern of the Nisyonos of Avraham.
Founder Responsibilities
       As the founder of the Jewish People, Avraham had a responsibility to put his descendants in the best possible scenario to succeed.[14] To that end, he was given different nisyonos that were designed to provide a boon for the nation in the future in different aspects. Each nisayon built upon the previous one, and they all led up to the Akeidah; without having overcome the previous nine, Avraham could not have achieved the level required to be presented with the nisayon of the Akeidah.[15] Upon passing all ten of the nisyonos presented to him, Avraham gave Bnei Yisrael blessings and protection forever throughout time and space.
       Nisayon achievements. According to the Ramban, the nisyonos of Avraham granted Bnei Yisrael the following merits: that Avraham would have multitudes of descendants, that they would inherit the whole of Eretz Yisrael, they would be protected from their enemies, they would receive the Hashgachah Pratis of Hashem, they would always (eventually) defeat their enemies and inhabit Eretz Yisrael.[16] These merits were achieved in stages; after each nisayon a different aspect was unlocked and promised to the Jewish People.
The Akeidah
       With each of the nisyonos providing a different piece of the puzzle, the Akeidah provided the most important parts. By achieving the Akeidah, Avraham had completed his life mission of establishing the spiritual existence for his descendants. The medrash goes so far as to say that if Avraham had not achieved the Akeidah, he would have lost the merit for the other nine nisyonos as well.[17] According to the Ramban, the Akeidah guaranteed that the Jewish People would never be destroyed or completely defeated, and that there would eventually be a final geulah.[18] The promise was so strong, that even the sins of his children would not cancel it out.
       Additionally, we mentioned earlier that nisayon comes from the word “נס”, meaning “banner”, since the nisyonos act as a banner to the world showing the greatness of this person. As the only time the Torah uses the word nisayon and explicitly tells us that Avraham was being tested,[19] it was the Akeidah that acts as the banner for Avraham to show his greatness more than any other nisayon.[20] Clearly, it is a very important event in our history.
The Lesson of the Akeidah
       But beyond this, the actual Akeidah is an important idea to which we can relate. Non-Jews have several mitzvos that require them to respect Hashem and His authority over the world. However, only Jews have the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify Hashem’s name in this world. The basic obligation is to act as an ethical role model and a committed observer of the Torah, however, it also includes being ready to die for Hashem.
       This exclusive commandment is a great honor for the Jewish People! The only people you can ask to make extreme sacrifices are those who you feel extremely close to, usually a close family member. You do not ask an acquaintance, or even a good friend to sacrifice something that big for you. By giving only us this mitzvah to be moser nefesh al Kiddush Hashem, Hashem is showing us that there is no one closer to Him than us. [21] This mitzvah is very important to understanding the relationship between us and Hashem, and it is first given to us by Akeidas Yitzchak.
Akeidas Yitzchak
       Until now, we have discussed Avraham’s role in the Akeidah and its effect on history, but what about the other person involved in this act? What was Yitzchak’s role in the Akeidah?

The Akeidah Wasn’t About Yitzchak      
       The act of the Akeidah as a nisayon was designed specifically for Avraham. While Yitzchak’s participation in the Akeidah also resulted in merit for the future nation, in terms of the act itself, he was irrelevant.[22] Each of our Avos represented a different trait of Hashem. Yitzchak, represented the character trait of Din, Justice, so he had no qualms about being sacrificed for the sake of Hashem. If Hashem needed him to die, being that He is the ultimate judge, obviously it was the right thing to do. So the Akeidah wasn’t a nisayon for him like it was for Avraham, who represented kindness.[23] So why was Yitzchak selected to take part in the Akeidah? Why wasn’t a different candidate taken who would have related to the nisayon?
       Wish granted. The medrash describes a conversation that took place between Yitzchak and Yishmael, arguing who Hashem loved more. They went back and forth until Yishmael said that since he had volunteered to be circumcised when he could have refused, it outweighed Yitzchak’s forced circumcision, even though Yitzchak’s was done at the proper time (when he was eight days old). Since Yitzchak had no choice in the matter he couldn’t receive the same amount of credit. Sensing Yishmael had a good argument, Yitzchak declared that he was greater since Yishmael only gave up a few drops of blood, but if Hashem would ask him to spill all his blood, Yitzchak was ready and willing.[24] 
       Based on this, we can understand why Yitzchak was included in the Akeidah. The nisayon of the Akeidah was going to take place regardless of this conversation; however, the reason why Yitzchak was included was because he asked to be!
The Lasting Effect of Akeidas Yitzchak and Yitzchak’s Role
       We can now return to our original questions, specifically: 1) Why do we refer to the Akeidah as Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Yitzchak? This was just a small detail within the larger event. Furthermore, the actual nisayon was not about Avraham binding Yitzchak, it was about bringing Yitzchak as a korban. 2) While the story of the Akeidah had far-reaching effects that pertain to us nowadays, it is also used to a certain degree to represent the Jewish People. This doesn’t seem like the best story to use, because of several factors that make it non-relatable, including human sacrifice! We also brought evidence from the Emek Davar that the actual story of the Akeidah was supposed to be a private affair; no one at that time heard the story. Even though it is written in the Torah, perhaps we aren’t meant to publicize the actual story, maybe we are just supposed to take the lessons from it and leave the rest alone?
Yitzchak’s Impact on the Nisayon of the Akeidah
       Mesiras Nefesh. The purpose of the Akeidah was to teach future generations of Bnei Yisrael about the mitzvah of dying for the sake of Hashem, a mitzvah given only to Jews because of our unique parent-child relationship with Hashem.[25] Even though Avraham was the one making the sacrifice, Yitzchak was the one actually fulfilling this mitzvah. Furthermore, the reason Yitzchak asked to be tied up was in order to prevent Avraham from having any obstacles in sacrificing him. Once he was bound, Yitzchak had no more opportunities to prevent himself from being killed. Therefore, the fact that Yitzchak was bound is the ultimate display of mesiras nefesh al Kiddush Hashem, making it an integral part of the Akeidah. In addition to this, the fact that Yitzchak volunteered for his role in the Akeidah makes it fitting to call the entire episode after him.[26]
Our Relationship to Akeidas Yitzchak
       The answer to the second question flows from the above answer, and enlightens us to Avraham’s role in the Akeidah. But first, we must understand that separate from any other ideas, it is important for us to learn about the trials of the great people of our nation. They act as banners both to the Jewish People as well as the rest of the world of the greatness of our ancestors.[27] It’s even more important for us to learn about the nisyonos of Avraham and the circumstances under which they were achieved, since each nisayon granted us an additional blessing from Hashem for physical and spiritual goodness.[28] This is especially true of the Akeidah since it was the most essential of all Avraham’s nisyonos.
       Meaningful death. Even nowadays, the concept of dying for a cause is still well-understood and admired. And for a parent, it’s even harder to sacrifice your child for a cause than it is to sacrifice yourself. This was the nisayon Hashem presented Avraham with. Avraham was ready to live and die for Hashem, we see that from previous nisyonos, the question was if Avraham was prepared to make an even bigger sacrifice; was he prepared to sacrifice his son for Hashem’s ‘cause’?
       Relevant details. The fact that the story of the Akeidah was not publicized at the time is because it was a nisayon that would only ever apply to the children of Avraham. Only the Jewish People are obligated to be moser nefesh, and over history, we have been asked to do that many times, including parents sacrificing their children. The first instance of this was by the Akeidah. Avraham went with Yitzchak alone, leaving Yishmael and Eliezer at the bottom of the mountain, because they had no connection to what was going to take place. In contrast, other people were directly involved in a number of other nisyonos, such as Lot by the nisayon of Sarah kidnapped by Paroh, and Yishmael himself was circumcised by the nisayon of Bris Milah. Those events were relevant to others and could therefore involve them.
       Based on this, the Akeidah becomes an excellent event to represent the Jewish People, as it shows how far we are willing to go for the ‘cause’ of Hashem. Furthermore, it is a story only relevant for us, and therefore, was kept strictly within the family of Avraham. 
Accepting the Will of Hashem
       Another possible answer to first question is as follows. Yitzchak asked to be bound in order that he should be executed without resisting, showing his utter acceptance of the will of Hashem.[29] Additionally, it is important to us that the Akeidah, and the other nisyonos as well, be something we can relate to. We can relate to the role of Yitzchak in the Akeidah story more than the role of Avraham. We can relate to being compliant, to accepting the will of Hashem, more than being the person who clearly knows the will of Hashem and executes it.[30] By highlighting Yitzchak’s role, we place our focus on this aspect.[31]

       It is because of these reasons that Akeidas Yitzchak takes such a central role in the Tefillos on Rosh Hashanah.[32] At our time of judgement, we ask Hashem to remember that show of faith from Avraham, who was ready to give up everything, and the willingness of Yitzchak, who accepted his role in the world, and declare that as their descendants, we have the will (and the obligation) to continue their tradition. There is no better way to represent the Jewish People than this story.
       Still, the story of the Akeidah can be a delicate episode for those new to Judaism. For those who do not understand the ‘cause’ of Hashem, it seems insane for Avraham to consider killing his son.[33] Perhaps the Akeidah can be used to explain the ramifications of being an eved Hashem. When discussing the role of a Jew, it is not simply about the service of Hashem, it’s about changing the world and accepting the responsibility to improve it. It’s about recognizing a cause that is real and right and ultimately leads to a close relationship with the Creator.

Nation's Wisdom is a project which encourages the masses to share their thoughts and wisdom on a variety of Torah ideas such as Parshah, Halachah, and Hashkafah among others. For more information or to have your idea published, please click here or email us at 

[1] Found in Bereishis Chapter 22
[2] The act of binding is described in 22:9. Bereishis Rabba 56:8 explains the importance of this act. Yitzchak suggested he be bound in order that he not accidentally cause Avraham to give him a blemish which would have disqualified him from being a sacrifice.
[3] Bereishis 22:2
[4] See Tanchuma Vayeira 23 for a discussion of how this began
[5] Facing the criticism for this seemingly hypocritical act was part of the nisayon of Avraham
[6] Bereishis 12:1
[7] 22:2
[8] 22:5
[9] Unless otherwise noted, this section on nisyonos is based on the Ramban on Bereishis 22:1
[10] Based on Michtav M’Eliyahu II p.34
[11] It follows that if a wicked person is given a nisayon, then the potential for spirituality exists within him. If he is able to pass it, we hope the spark of goodness lit from this nisayon will be brought out and developed further.
[12] Including the celestial one
[13] Bereishis Rabba 55:1; Kli Yakar Bereishis 22:12
[14] Ramban Bereishis 12:6
[15] Emek Davar Bereishis 22:1
[16] Bereishis 12:6; 13:17; 15:1,6,18; 17:1; 22:16
[17] Bereishis Rabba 55:1-3
[18] Bereishis 22:16
[19] See Bereishis 22:1
[20] Emek Davar 22:1
[21] Ibid 22:17
[22] Ibid 22:1. He further explains that by participating in the Akeidah, Yitzchak established a connection between Korbanos and their ability to provide parnassah for Bnei Yisrael. This is a common theme found in the Emek Davar. See Bereishis 2:5 for more.
[23] Emes L’Yaakov Bereishis 27:12
[24] Bereishis Rabba 55:4
[25] Emek Davar Bereishis 22:17. While the non-Jews have a relationship with Hashem, it is nowhere near the same degree.
[26] Bereishis Rabba 55:4. Yitzchak did not help determine that the nisayon of the Akeidah would take place, but he did make sure he would be involved. And whether or not Yitzchak was supposed to be involved, the fact that he volunteered without knowledge of his role is a credit to him.
[27] Kli Yakar Bereishis 22:12
[28] Ramban 12:6
[29] This is even without mentioning the Emek Davar in 22:17
[30] Avraham was a Navi; he knew exactly what Hashem wanted from him because Hashem told him! We can’t know exactly what we’re supposed to do; instead, we follow the Torah and do our best to understand our roles.
[31] This answer can also be used to answer the second question
[32] See Yalkut Shimoni 101 on the Torah on the phrase “Avraham Avraham” for more on this
[33] See ibid on the phrase “Vayaa’kod es Yitzchak” for more

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Korbanos: The What and Why

       Over the course of Sefer Vayikra, we received numerous questions concerning Korbanos, the sacrifices that are discussed throughout the Torah, but especially in Sefer Vayikra, that are a major theme of our religion.       
       To the modern-day mind, it is perhaps the strangest tradition we have. It becomes even stranger the more we understand the concept of Hashem; the fact that He has no needs, wants, or desires seems to back the idea that Korbanos are completely unnecessary. While we understand Tefillah, which replaces the need for Korbanos nowadays to a certain extent, the idea of sacrificing an animal to please Hashem seems a little more foreign. In continuation of the Nation's Wisdom project, today we present a short summary of the purpose and meaning behind sacrifices in Jewish religion. 
       The three questions we will be discussing here are: 1) What is the reason behind the act of Korbanos 2) What is the purpose served by Korbanos 3) Why do we bring Korbanos in this fashion.
       The laws of korbanos are extremely specific. Each korban is brought from a different animal, with different amounts of accessories (wine, oil, etc.), slaughtered in a different area of the Beis Hamikdash, with some only brought at specific times of year. These laws are laid out very clearly in the Torah and in Torah She Baal Peh; if one wrong step is made, the entire korban is thrown out. The reason for this specificity is because each aspect of the korban is arranged to provide us with a different type of hashgacha over us. 

Root of Korbanos
       We commonly translate a korban as a “sacrifice” which is correct, however, the root of the word is “kareiv”, meaning “to come close.” This is the true purpose of korbanos, to bring us closer to Hashem. Anything we would bring on the mizbe'ach, be it plant, animal, or mineral, is completely useless to Him. Picture it this way, imagine a little kid comes inside and hands his mother a bunch of wild dandelions while at the same time, sitting on the table is a vase with a huge bouquet of roses. Even though the roses are a lot more valuable and much more beautiful, the fact that her son has brought her a gift makes this tiny dandelion bouquet the most precious thing in the world. At the end of the day, it is the thought behind the gift that it important.
       The same is true with korbanos. As long as we recognize the amazing opportunity that korbanos provide, as well as realize that Hashem accepts our korbanos only as a way of strengthening the bond between us, then korbanos will work. This is the major difference between our daily tefillos and korbanos. Tefillah is an amazing opportunity for us to come close to Hashem, however, in every relationship, part of its growth is dependent on those involved showing they care by giving each other gifts. That is the relationship aspect that korbanos gives us that nothing else can. That’s why there are so many laws about the condition the animal must be in when it is brought; since it is going to be a gift, shouldn’t it be the best you can get? 
       This shows the significance of the loss of the Beis Hamikdash, as now we no longer have that opportunity to improve our relationship with Hashem by bringing Him gifts. In fact, we see in Tanach how Bnei Yisrael stopped appreciating this opportunity to bring gifts, which in part led to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. (See Malachi 1:13.) 
       So we now understand why we bring korbanos, but why did Hashem choose animals to sacrifice? It seems a little barbaric. Wouldn’t a nice bouquet of flowers or a strong bushel of wheat be just as nice a gift? Perhaps Hashem is even a vegetarian!
Why Do We Bring Korbanos if Hashem Doesn't Eat?
       There are several reasons why you bring a korban, it can be in order to bring Hashem a gift, to ask forgiveness for a sin, or for a specific mitzvah. There is an idea that at every step of the korban process, its’ owner is supposed to view himself as if that act is being done to him. When you see the Kohen performing Vidui, slaughtering, burning the animal on the big fire on the mizbe'ach… it’s a very powerful image if you transfer yourself in its place. However, the only way you can really picture yourself up there is if the sacrifice is alive. Watching someone cut the stems from flowers does not really give you the chills. Watching blood spurt from a cow’s neck can, however, make you start rubbing yours a little more often…
What About the Animal?
       In case, you’re worried about the animal, being made into a korban is actually the best thing that can happen to it from a spiritual perspective. Animals don’t have mitzvos, they don’t learn Torah, and they cannot choose to serve Hashem. Not having those three things can severely limit your ability to increase your spiritual levels. Being brought as a korban, actually, even just being designated as a korban, is a tremendously spiritually uplifting experience for the animal that it would not receive if it was turned into, let’s say, a burger at your Memorial Day BBQ! 
       This idea can be proven in two ways. First, an animal that is designated as a korban and then for whatever reason is not brought, still retains a level of kedushah in that you can no longer eat it or use it for work in the fields. Also, when Yitzchak was almost brought as a korban, afterwards, he retained a level of kedushah that he was not allowed to leave Eretz Yisrael. We see from these two cases that simply being designated as a korban raises your spiritual level, whether you be man or beast.
Why We Have Korbanos
       There  is a famous machlokes between the Rambam and the Ramban, brought in the Ramban’s commentary to Vayikra 1:9. The Rambam is quoted that the reason Hashem gave us korbanos was in order to show us specifically that pagan concept of sacrifice was wrong. The religions that had begun before Judaism had their own concept of sacrifice that they used to serve their gods and Hashem wanted to show the Bnei Yisrael immediately that while it was a good idea to bring sacrifices (we see the Avos did it), the way the gentiles were doing it was all wrong. Therefore, He told us to bring korbanos, but with certain guidelines (such as only using salt as a spice, specifically no honey, only using kosher animals, etc.).
       The Ramban asks four questions on this Rambam, we will only bring the first. There is no mitzvah in the Torah that was given to us just in order to show the goyim that they were wrong, why would korbanos be this way? Therefore, the Ramban explains similar to what we said earlier. Hashem set up the practice of korbanos in order to help us atone for sins, and He specifically commanded us in animal sacrifice because it corresponds more to the way humans sin. A person sins with his thoughts, words, and actions. So a person does an act of Vidui and leans on the animal in order to atone for his actions, the recitation of Vidui corresponds to sins with words, and the animal’s innards are burnt since the stomach and kidneys are considered the organs that control a person’s thoughts and desires. The limbs are burnt to represent the acts done by the person’s limbs, and the blood is thrown on the sides of the mizbe'ach and represents the person’s neshama. All this is to show a person how really he should be up there, but through Hashem’s kindness, He allows him to bring an animal to die in his stead.      
       In today’s modern society, animal sacrifice does seem to be a nonsensical custom. But similar to tefillah, when we consider what it does for us, we can look at korbanos the same way. First, we are giving Hashem a gift. Therefore, it must be a nice gift, in good condition, given with good intentions, and must come from the heart. Secondly, we specifically use animals in order that the korban process will make a stronger impact on us.
       There is another amazing concept that comes out of korbanos that allows us to increase our relationship and understanding of with Hashem even nowadays. Slaughtering an animal is dirty, tiring work that you wouldn’t do unless you had to. Plus, when you did it, you wouldn’t wear beautiful clothing an stand in a beautiful hall; you would wear old clothing and bring the animal outside or to a place where nothing would get ruined. Yet, this is exactly what went on in the Beis Hamikdash! The Kohanim would be wearing their beautiful white clothing while standing in the gorgeous hall that was the azarah of the Beis Hamikdash. 
       We look at the act of sacrifice that we wouldn’t want to bring a korban unless we were specifically commanded by Hashem. Once we are commanded, we initially do it because we have to. But when all the work is done, after you’re covered with blood and exhausted from running all around getting everything ready for the mizbe’ach, and you see that incredible fire come down straight from the heavens and burn up the korban in a moment of pure kedushah, you realize that this whole act is an act of kedushah. Furthermore, you realize that this kedushah came as a direct result of your actions! 
       Three things come out from this idea: 1) bringing a korban is a way that Hashem shows how our actions can directly result in kedushah coming into this world. With most mitzvos, we don’t see this right away, but with korbanos we do. 2) Kedushah can be found anywhere. Even in apparently dirty and disgusting activities. 3) If Hashem commanded it, then it is not disgusting or debasing, no matter how much it seems to be that way.
       Sadly, with the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, korbanos are not applicable. We pray for the day when the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt and we may once again enjoy the opportunity to bring korbanos.

       Hopefully this gives you at least some understanding into the practice of Korbanos. Please understand that this is in no way a comprehensive essay and even this small article was edited down to size! Any questions can be directed to me at, and stay tuned for more of these essays right here at Nation's Wisdom! Lets us know what you want to learn about!

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