Rabbi Yaakov Haber
Rabbi Yaakov Haber

Korbanot - Elevating the Physical World

The Torah outlines for us in this week’s parasha, four types of korbanot -- offerings. Olah, Sh’lamim, Chatat, Asham. The Olah offering was unique in that, with the exception of the hide which was given to the Kohanim, it was entirely consumed on the mizbei’ach. For the remaining three, only parts of the animal, the eimurim, were offered on the altar, whereas the remaining parts of the animal were eaten subject to various time and place requirements (see Mishnayot Z’vachim Perek Eizehu M’koman). With two of these three, the Chatat and the Asham, only the Kohanim were allowed to eat, whereas with the Sh’lamim, all had a portion. There was another type of korban though that, in this regard, was the opposite of the Olah. The Shtei HaLechem, the two leavened breads brought on Shavuot, although having the status of a Mincha -- a meal offering, was entirely consumed by the Kohanim. How can we understand this range of requirements concerning the offerings?

Rav C. Y. Goldwicht zt”l, the founding Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, noted an additional anomaly. Although non-Jews may offer korbanot to G-d, their only choice is the Olah. Indeed, when Yitro joins Moshe in the desert, and, according to the tradition of Chazal, converted, then he joined Aharon and the Elders in partaking of “z’vachim,” a reference to Sh’lamim. Why?

Korbanot represent Avodah -- service of the Divine. A central teaching of Judaism, and the crucial thrust of mitzvot, is the sanctification of every aspect of the physical world in the service of the Creator. Indeed, korbanot spanned the entire range of the physical creation. They included minerals (salt), plants (oil, meal), birds (doves, pigeons), and animals. It is not surprising then that the korbanot also reflect the range of Divine service. Certain mitzvot are comparable to the Olah. On Yom Kippur, we separate from physicality, and elevate ourselves by devoting the entire day to ruchniyut -- spirituality. Others are more similar to the Sh’lamim -- t’fillin contain portions of Torah inside but are formed from the hide of animals (both the parchment and the containers). (Indeed, Rav Goldwicht noted that one of the holiest objects in halacha, the seifer Torah, is formed from a very physical object, animal hide.) Others, however, are more like the Shtei HaLechem. On Pesach, we eat matza, totally physical food, none of which is brought on any mizbei’ach, and yet it a central mitzva! Indeed, the Talmud comments concerning the korbanot that are partially eaten by the Kohanim, that “kohanim och’lim uv’alim mitcap’rim” -- the Kohanim eat, and the owners of the offering achieve atonement. Halacha even compares the table at which we eat to a mizbei’ach. (This is one of the reasons we keep salt at the table.)

The commentary Kli Chemdah on Parashat VaYeira notes that the Shtei Halechem are offered on Shavuot, the day of Mattan Torah. One would have expected additional Olot instead, wholly brought to G-d! Rather, the message of Torah is the elevation of the mundane. “Lo nit’na Torah l’malachei hashareit” -- the Torah was not given the entirely spiritual angels, it was given to Man -- the composite of n’shama and guf, soul and body, to convert the physical aspects of himself and the world into the spiritual. Therefore, Yitro partakes of a sh’lamim only after his conversion to highlight this theme of mitzvot.

In the temporary absence of the Bait HaMikdash, when we cannot physically offer korbanot, may the study of their laws and significance be viewed by Hakadosh Baruch Hu, as “un’shal’ma parim s’fateinu” -- “our words should be a substitute.”

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