Sharing Torah Insights

Thinking of Sacrifice

Posted on י׳ בניסן ה׳תש״ע (March 25, 2010) | in Terumah, Tzav | by

In this week’s Parsha we come across the interesting halacha of Piggul. This halacha basically says that when bringing a Korban, if the Kohen or person bringing the sacrifice had a thought about eating the Korban at an invalid time or in an invalid place, the entire sacrifice must be discarded and if someone proceeds to eat from that sacrifice, they are punished with Karet (spiritual excommunication).

After having gone to such a trouble to buy an unblemished animal, bring it to Jerusalem, walk it up the Temple Mount and carried through with the sacrificial process, why would a simple thought invalidate the entire sacrifice? Isn’t there a value to all the effort that was taken so far?

The Sefer HaChinnuch on Parshat Terumah writes about the purpose of the sacrifices. He first quotes the Ramban (Nachmanides) who says that the purpose of the sacrifices is to remind us that having sinned, we actually deserve to be on the altar ouselves. We specifically sacrifice the liver and kidneys, which represent desire, as well as the legs, which symbolize action, to remind ourselves that through these elements we allowed ourselves to sin and impress upon ourselves the importance of not sinning again.

The Sefer HaChinnuch then says that another way to understand the Korbanot, is to realize that when created by Hashem, we were nothing more than animals with intellect. By sinning, we have effectively destroyed the distinction between ourselves and the animals. Therefore, the sacrifice of the animal serves as a moral lesson that we need to hold ourselves to the standard demanded of us, and by realizing this, hopefully we won’t sin again.

Either way, he writes that the importance of sacrifices is not in the act of doing the sacrifice, but rather in the effect it has is those people bringing it. God doesn’t need our cows and goats; rather, He created the sacrificial process as an opportunity for us to improve ourselves.

This is why, then, that an inappropriate thought would invalidate the entire sacrifice. Since the sacrifices are only there as an opportunity for us to purify our thoughts (and through that purification avoid sin in the future,) tainting that sacrifice by thinking that the purpose of the sacrifice is for you to be able to eat it in a place or at a time of your choosing defeats the entire purpose of the sacrifice!

Today, as we have no Beit HaMikdash (may it be built speedily in our days), prayer has replaced the sacrificial services. As such we must see Tefillah as the same transformative experience that the sacrifices were, and must try to pray with the holiest of intentions – to purify our thoughts and bring us closer to Hashem.

Have a great Shabbat!

Follow-on question: Is this the purpose of cleaning for Pesach?

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