“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.’” — Leviticus 1:2
The Torah portion for this week is Vayikra, which means “and He called,” from Leviticus 1:1–5:26, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 43:21–44:23.
As people living in today’s society, it’s hard to relate to the worship practices of ancient societies, which revolved around bringing sacrifices to God, or in most cases, gods. It’s hard for us to imagine that burnt offerings were of any worth to the Almighty. Yet, here we clearly find in the Bible a commandment from God to bring Him animal sacrifices.
In all other cases of sacrificial offerings, the premise was that the gods “needed” something from humans. But as followers of the God of Israel, we believe that God doesn’t need anything! What could He possibly want with dead animals?
The first hint of an answer can be derived from the Hebrew word for sacrifices, karbanot. The word karbanot comes from the word karov which means “close” as in “nearness.” The point of the karbanot was to bring us closer to God. In other words, God didn’t need these sacrifices; we did!
I once read a story about the actor Kirk Douglas that explains this idea well. In 1991, Kirk was involved in a serious helicopter crash. The pilot and co-pilot lost their lives, but miraculously, Kirk survived. The event shook Kirk to the core, and as he recovered in the hospital, he couldn’t help but wonder why he had survived.
Kirk concluded that if God chose to keep him alive, then there must be a reason. This was the beginning of a spiritual journey that eventually led Kirk back to his Jewish roots and to embracing a life centered on God. This was very different from the Hollywood-styled life that the actor had been living up until then.
What does Kirk Douglas’ story have to do with Temple sacrifices?
According to Scripture, when a person brought a sacrifice in the Temple, he had to lean on the animal so as to invest himself into it and think, “This could have been me.” That way, the worshiper goes through an experience similar to the one Kirk Douglas had in which the person is left thinking, “If I am still alive because of God’s mercy and grace, there must be a reason.” That type of thinking should cause a person to grow closer to God than ever before.
This is how we bring sacrifices to God today; we bring Him ourselves.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President