March 18, 2021 / 5 Nissan, 5781 • Parshat Vayikra
Issue 658
Dedicated in loving memory of Mrs. Miriam Friedman

G-d said to Moses, “When someone brings a sacrifice”:

Leviticus 1:2

The very notion of sacrifices seems to run counter to the Jewish conception of G-d: G-d is not physical and therefore has no need to “consume” our sacrifices. Yet we see in this section of the Torah that G-d not only accepts sacrifices but explicitly sets down the procedures for them, giving every indication that He actually wants them!

The answer lies in the fact that the Hebrew word for “sacrifice” or “offering”—korban—carries neither of these meanings, but means “getting close.” Although we generally associate sacrifices with atonement for sin, the first sacrifices mentioned in this section are voluntary offerings, which an individual brings to G-d not to atone for sin but out of the desire to draw closer to Him.

Yet, some of the sacrifices are indeed sin-offerings. This indicates that G-d calls out to all of us to draw close to Him—not only to the guiltless among us, but to all of us, at all times.

Nowadays, in the absence of the Tabernacle (or its permanent successor, the holy Temple in Jerusalem), there are three ways that we draw close to G-d: (1) through studying the Torah—particularly its teachings about sacrifices; (2) through prayer, the liturgy of which is modeled after the sacrifices; and (3) through acts of charity and kindness.

—from Daily Wisdom #1