2 Adar ll 5782
What is a True Offering?
I’ve adapted today’s drash on Tzav from a message that our Rabbi, Ranebi brought us in 5780 – 2 years ago. Here’s is his message for us today.
This week in Parashat Tzav, which means “He commands”, Aaron and his children, the cohanim, were taught in detail about the various Korbanot, the offerings. Notice that Ranebi didn’t use the word “sacrifice” because we need to distance ourselves from the pagan idea of sacrifices. At that time, many civilizations sacrificed to their gods to “appease” them. Please understand that the mentality of the people 4000 years ago was very different than ours today. The same Torah speaks to us but according to our understanding. The Creator was focusing us away from many gods to the One God. By our own Free Will, “Bechirah Chofshit”, we were going to have to choose to bring these offerings to Him in acknowledgment that we were accepting full responsibility for our actions. If He commands us to bring offerings, doesn’t that remove the concept of His gift of Free Will? No, because if we didn’t have free will, He wouldn’t have to command us – we wouldn’t have the capacity to choose. We would be like robots. However, with freedom of choice, the Creator wants us to be responsible because He has called us to represent Him.
In Tzav, the word Torah is repeated several times; the Torah for the mincha, the Torah for the shelamim etc., where Torah means “instructions” on how to do them. When we are so legalistic and take things so literally, we become removed from understanding the reasons that the Creator spoke to those people, in that way, at that time. The people had been totally oppressed by the pagan religion of the Egyptians but now the Creator was giving them the opportunity to think for themselves; that is Bechirat Chofshit (Free Will). This would make them responsible for their actions and He does with us today. He wanted us to know that no one else could pay for our misdeeds. The offerings were not gifts to get on His good side by paying Him off when we did something wrong. We can’t show off to Him; He knows exactly who we are. A past Haftarah reading in Malachi 3 shows us that He is not impressed with our sacrifices because He knows our kavanah, our intentions.
Although this book is also called Sefer HaKohanim (the Book of the Priests), it is not only about the rules for the priesthood, but it also concerns their service to Him and to the community, both within a relationship with Him. What is the true avodah, true service to the Creator? It’s when we are serving each other, our neighbor, those in our community. By helping them, we bring a korban, an offering to Him. We brought the Korban “Ola”, the burnt offering as an acknowledgment of His supremacy and His greatness. The second offering presented to the Creator as an “olah”, a burnt offering was the “mincha”, the grain offerings for a רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ rei’ach nichoi’ach, a sweet incense to Him. The first word rei’ach comes from the word ruach – רוח – which means spirit or breath and nichoi’ach comes from nachon – נכון – meaning “right, accepted, good” depicting that this spiritual offering would be well accepted by our Creator when we brought it to Him by our own free will and with the right intention.
He held the Cohanim to a higher standard because they would be the teachers of the people. There is a saying…The more that is given to you, the more is required of you. That is why Moses didn’t want the position of leading the people. We are all in that position. Most of us do not want to step into the responsibility of our calling for whatever reason but we can’t run away without consequence. The important thing to know that when He calls us, He prepares us and gives us everything we need to fulfill that calling. All we need is to be available.
The Cohanim led the Shabbat services but in truth, everyone participates, and no one is more important than the other. Each of us brings something to the table. Our rabbi spoke to us for many years about the difference between being religious and having a relationship with the Creator. Most people find it easier to be religious; they prefer to follow pre-set formulas instead of developing a true and honest relationship with the Creator and the people around them. They tend to cover themselves with a façade until they are unmasked. There are offerings that very few people think of; one for example, when we used to go to the congregation on Shabbat, we went well-dressed and now we put on good clothes when we meet on Zoom. Our Rabbi looked at it as if we are going to meet the King. Does the Creator need us to do that? Of course not, He’s not impressed with how we dress since He knows us from within. But it’s not about making an impression; it’s more about our attitude, our intention, to show that we have reverence and respect for Him. We dress up for any fancy occasion like a wedding, dinner party, or funeral so why wouldn’t we do that on Shabbat, the holiest of days? And if we treat our parents or someone in a higher position with respect, how much more to we need to do that for our Creator?
Why is it so important to understand the teachings in this book?
The offerings were meant to show us that each of us is to respond to Him by being willing to serve the Creator, and true service is about serving each other not ourselves; that is true offering to the Creator. The Chataat offering was presented to Him when we realized that we had unintentionally done something wrong. It has been called a sin offering but a better understanding would be “we missed the mark.” The Asham, the guilt offering was to show that we were convicted within about something that we did wrong, again unintentionally.
Is God blood-thirsty; only placated by blood sacrifices? Certain religious leaders say that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. They take Leviticus 17:11 out of context when they leave out verse 10: “And whatever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who eat any manner of blood, I will set My face against that soul who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people”. It’s clear we are not to eat blood. When we remove man’s theology and return to the Word of God, we can understand that the Creator wants His community to be in relationship with Him instead of being religious. The religious person performs externally for others, while a true believer is the one who desires that personal closeness with the Creator in a way that they can have an intimate conversation with Him. That is known as “Tefilah – תפילה – prayer”.
He’s not interested in how much blood we shed through the killing of animals. Our prophet Isaiah in chap.1:11 said “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? says the LORD; I am fed up with the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I do not delight in the blood of bullocks, of lambs, or of male goats.” We have theologized this to the point that we have implanted the idea that if someone or something does not die and shed blood, we cannot receive forgiveness for our sins. The Creator is telling us that there is no offering for intentional sin – all we can do is teshuva, but we still must face the consequences. We always need to see what the Word of God says, Psalms 51: 18 and 19 state: “For You do not delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it; You take no pleasure in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Today, we do not have a Temple where we would bring these offerings although there are groups who want to rebuild it and reinstate the sacrifices. Some say that the Shelamim, the thanksgiving offering is the only one that will be reinstated. But do we really need to bring back these offerings? Rabbi Ben Zakkai, who took over after the destruction of the Temple, reminded us about this from the prophet Hoshea who said in 6:6:“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.” The knowledge of God means having an intimate relationship with Him as in “Adam knew (yodeah) his wife, Eve.” Yodeah means to know intimately – spiritually, there is no separation between two people who share everything together. That is a true union and a true relationship with the Creator. He wants a commitment from us to help others.
We are going through very difficult times. The news can be quite disconcerting and confusing. We know that a plague has once again hit the world; we were told to follow simple instructions to stay safe. In the same way, the Creator gave us simple instructions; He gave us knowledge, intelligence and understanding. If He explained how to live a good life in a very simple way and we are disobedient, what can we expect? Without His Commandments, chaos results. If choose to not follow the basic Ten Commandments, we are partly responsible for bringing on the plagues that are hitting the world today. Our selfish attitude that we don’t care what happens to others causes problems for the rest.
Part of the haftarah reading this week in Jeremiah 9: 22-23 sums up this teaching beautifully, “Thus says the LORD: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; But let he who glories glory in this, that he understands, and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the LORD.
Here is the video of the above message: