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DOES G-D NEED OUR SACRIFICES
Arachim
DOES G-D NEED OUR SACRIFICES
Question - - 02/28/2013
Why does G-d want us to bring sacrifices to Him? Does He need our offerings?
Answer by Arachim
Obviously, a Supreme Being who is complete and perfect has no need of presents from human beings. Why, then, do we find that G-d gave detailed commandments about bringing offerings to Him when the Temple was standing in Jerusalem?
Let's start from the beginning. The Hebrew word for "offering" or "sacrifice" is korban. Unlike the English equivalent, this word does not imply giving up something - that is, sacrificing something - or even connote the idea of giving. Its root is korov - which mean near or close by. A korbon is a means of drawing nearer to G-d. It is not G-d who "profits" from my bringing a korban, but I, myself, for I become that much closer to my Creator as a result.
Those who served pagan idols would bring "presents" to their gods in an attempt to please them or to quell their anger. They sought to be on good terms with their various pagan deities and thus to win their favor.
Judaism rejects this approach categorically. G-d has no need of any presents, offerings, or sacrifices from us. Neither is He willing to accept any trace of bribe. The Creator gave us the commandments for our benefit, not for His. The purpose is to refine our character and to strengthen our bond with our Maker.
How does this work?
Man's nature is such that he is constantly subject to a struggle between his physical impulses and his higher, spiritual drives. Man's body seeks not only to fulfill its basic needs, but also to accumulate more and more pleasurable physical experiences. At the same time, his soul seeks the pleasure of refining his moral fiber. When a person sins, he is giving in to his physical being and weakening his spiritual character. What is more, this one victory for the physical is very likely to lead to another, and yet another, thus establishing a pattern which will be difficult to change. The Sages express this phenomenon with the axiom: "One sin brings another in its wake."
The goal of the korbon is to break this cycle. Rather than being caught up in a pattern of "one sin brings another in its wake", we wish to initiate a productive, constructive cycle of "one mitzvah brings another in its wake."
The cow, sheep, or goat which we bring to the Temple as an offering serves as a symbol of man's physical, animal drives. By slaughtering an animal as an offering to G-d and sprinkling its blood on the altar and then offering its flesh to G-d, man expresses his aspiration to "slaughter" the animalistic drives that propel him to disobeying his Maker. The act of bringing a korbon to the Temple serves to add sanctity to his physical being and place it at the service of G-d. Indeed, the act of bringing a korbon should be accompanied by a mental process which expresses his inner desire to take steps to draw nearer to G-d, to refine his spiritual being and to abandon the pursuit of self-gratifying activity.
We find, in fact, that the prophets spoke out sharply against the practice of bringing offerings merely as a religious rite, devoid of any emotional or intellectual content. If the person bringing the korbon failed to take the significance of his act to heart, and viewed it not as an opportunity to draw nearer to his G-d, but merely as an empty ritual. In the name of G-d, the prophet deplored such sacrifices:
"What need have I of your myriad offerings?" saith G-d
Isaiah 1:11
The first instance of man's bringing an offering to G-d which is recorded in the Bible is described in the beginning of the Book of Genesis. Both Cain and Abel brought offerings, but the response to them was very different. Cain, who tilled the land, brought an offering of linen seeds, a relatively petty gift. He had other, far more valuable crops, but kept these entirely for himself. His attitude was that of one who knows that he must go through the motions of offering something, in order to stay on good terms, even though he would be quite pleased to "get off the hook", if it were possible. Cain felt that his crops were, in fact, really his property, the fruits of his efforts, but acknowledged, grudgingly, that he must make some minimal gesture of thanking his Creator for his ample harvest. That way, he thought, G-d would be pacified and would allow him to enjoy the rest of his crops to the maximum.
Abel's approach was completely different. He carefully selected the best and the finest of the animals he had in his flocks. His attitude was not one of pacifying a superior that could not be denied. Rather, he felt that all he owned ultimately belonged to G-d; even his own body and soul were the work of the Creator. He would willingly have laid down even his life for G-d, were human sacrifice not forbidden. As a substitute for his own being, he chose the best of his property, and dedicated this to G-d as an offering.
It is not surprising that G-d's response to each of the brothers' offerings was so different, as the text tells us:
And the L-rd had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect.
Genesis 4:4-5
A korbon should be brought as a sacrifice of the soul to the Creator. Without the spiritual dimension of a humble spirit acknowledging its Maker, the sacrifice no longer has any significance. Nor does it serve its purpose. Man may err, he may sin, but the opportunity to bring a korbon leaves the door open for him to repair the harm done.
However, a korbon which is not motivated by a heart seeking to thank its Creator, or to repent, and again draw near to Him, would better not be placed upon G-d's altar.
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