The Role of the Korbanot before the Giving of the Torah

Parshat Vayikra is all about Korbanot (sacrifices). Rambanís view is that these offerings show a personís readiness to sacrifice themselves for their God.


Nahama Leibowitz quotes Rabbi David Hoffmanís introduction to his commentary on Vayikra where he investigates the role of the Korbanot before the giving of the Torah, when the Korbanot were acts of self expression, separate from a superior authority:


The first offerings were those of Kayin and Hevel (Breisheet 4:3) where they were called Mincha, a gift. Hevel brought ďof the firstlings of his flock and of the fat parts thereofĒ with the intention of presenting God with the best of what he possessed, in order to receive the rest as a Divine favor.


Hevelís gift was the concrete expression of a noble sentiment and was therefore received as the Torah states (Breisheet 4:4) ďGod accepted Hevel and his offeringĒ.


Kayinís offering was not accepted since he was looking to appease God, afraid that God would deprive him of the produce of the land. This is the underlying idea in most pagan sacrifices. Fearing the ďjealousy of the godsĒ, they tried to placate the superior forces that threatened their lives and possessions.


Although accepted, Hevelís gift was only a gift and did not symbolize his life as belonging to and depending upon God.


It was Noach who, having witnessed the destruction of the world full of wicked people, his own life being saved by a Divine miracle, came to realize that he owed his life and existence to Godís will. This was expressed by Noach offering animal sacrifices. The blood of the sacrifice poured on the altar represented the human life and soul. Noachís feelings found concrete expression in the sacrifices which symbolized that not only his possessions but also his very life- his blood- belonged to God.


Finally, in Akedet Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac, God gives Avraham the most difficult test, to sacrifice his son. Obeying the Divine command and ready to carry it out, he is ordered to preserve his sonís life. Just then a ram appears, and Avraham sacrifices the Ram instead. This experience illustrates the idea of full submission to Godís will, which is the ultimate purpose of a personís life- (which in this case was done) through an animal sacrifice. This is what the ďfear of GodĒ means, boundless obedience to Godís will.


Avraham was willing to sacrifice his son because that was Godís command to him. In the end God told Avraham to sacrifice the ram instead.


The Korbanot, when performed correctly, were an opportunity to bring people closer to God. Unfortunately there was a lot of abuse involved, starting with Kayin, which actually distanced man from God in many ways.


Today, we donít have Korbanot, but we can still work on becoming closer to God through prayer (which has replaced the Korbanot) as well as through the observance of the mitzvot (commandments).