Chapter “Vayikra”

This week’s parsha, Parshat Vayikra, is the opening chapter of The Book of Leviticus, or as the Talmudic Sages referred to it, Torat Kohanim (the torah of the “priests”). The primary topic in this third of the five books of Moses is the korbanot. The word korban (singular form of korbanot) is usually mistranslated as either an offering or a sacrifice. The reason I say mistranslated is because neither word really captures the essence of what a korban really is, and both imply that God is somehow benefiting from the fact that an animal was sacrificed, or offered to him. In reality the purpose of a korban is not so God can benefit from it, but rather the purpose of a korban, much like prayer, is so that the human being that brings the korban may benefit. As Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that the root of the Hebrew word קרבן (korban) is קרב, which means coming near, because the purpose of the korbanot is to elevate ourselves and bring us closer to God.

The Ramban writes that the reason we bring korbanot is because the verse states that the smoke from a korban is a ריח ניחח לה’, a satisfying aroma to God. So at first glance it would seem as though the Ramban maintains that the purpose of a korban is because God likes the “aroma” of the smoky korban. This would not only make my entire first paragraph obsolete, but would also mean that the Ramban believes that not only does God actually derive benefit from things, but physical things at that.

The Ramchal states that the purpose of creation is so that God can bestow good open others. Since God is absolute perfection and therefore the ultimate good, the greatest good God could bestow upon his creations was to give them the ability to attach themselves to him, to become “close” to God. The way one becomes “close” to God, is by mimicking God. Since God is both perfect and devoid of all deficiency, so too man must become perfect and devoid of all deficiency in order to receive the greatest possible good, namely, that of being “close” to his creator. Therefore God gave us both positive and negative commandments, the positive ones in order that we should perfect ourselves through them and the negative ones in order that we should avoid all deficiencies by not transgressing them.

The purpose of the korbanot perhaps more so than any other mitzvah (commandment) is to bring us closer to God, as is evidenced in the very word korban itself. It is done in order to perfect the one bringing the korban. The Ramban did not mean that God receives intrinsic benefit from it, but rather that he finds it to be a “satisfying aroma” due to the fact that people are making use of creation by fulfilling its purpose, namely giving God the opportunity to bestow the greatest good upon them.

While it is true that nowadays we no longer have korbanot, we do have prayer. Our daily prayer service was set up by the sages in place of the daily korbanot that were brought in the Temple. So may we all take advantage of the three times a day the sages allotted for prayer, so in that way we can attach ourselves to God and subsequently have the purpose of creation come to fruition by having God bestow upon us the greatest possible God, the good that only comes from our attaching ourselves to him.

– Alex Likhtenstein