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by Mendel Starkman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

In order to survive, human beings require the routine introduction of nutrients into their systems. If these nutrients are not supplied, it is quickly noticed. However, food is not the only kind of nutrition that must be administered several times a day.



In order to survive, human beings require the routine introduction of nutrients into their systems. If these nutrients are not supplied, it is quickly noticed. However, food is not the only kind of nutrition that must be administered several times a day.

In this week's Torah portion, we are introduced to the different forms of korbanot (offerings) that were brought in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Unfortunately, our sins have forced us to live today without the holy Temple or the korbanot. However, by analyzing the korbanot, we can learn important lessons that can be applied to our lives now, just as they were in Temple times. Rabbi Isaac Sher, a prominent rosh yeshiva during World War II, explains that bringing a korban (offering) is not a simple matter. There are complicated laws and profound understandings and intentions necessary for the procedure. However, these laws and intentions were only applicable to the kohanim (priests), who were the only ones involved in actually offering the animal. The owner of the animal had little to do with the process. His job was to bring the animal to the Temple. He would rest his hands on the animal's head and then, depending on the type of korban, confess his sins or sing praises. Afterwards, he would stand there as the kohanim would go through the complicated details involved in offering the korban. Essentially, the owner's job was to merely bring the animal to the Temple. However, this alone had a profound effect on the individual. Before entering the Temple, a person had to first purify himself in a mikvah (ritual bath). Also, the Tosafists, the Talmudic glosses of 12th and 13th century rabbis, explain that the experience of observing the Temple service itself acted to inspire and enthuse the onlooker (Talmud Tractate Baba Batra 21a). A person would witness the great holiness of the Temple together with the zealous services performed by the kohanim. This sight would inspire a person to focus his heart to fear Hashem and to study Torah.

From here we see that there are two aspects to bringing a korban. The first is the complicated laws and deep intentions required for the sacrifice. Not everyone was able to have these profound intentions, so the job of offering the animal was left to the kohanim. The second aspect, which applied to the entire nation, was experiencing the holy atmosphere of Hashem's house. This acted to inspire and uplift the nation.

Rabbi Sher continues to explain that our prayers were established in place of the korbanot (Talmud Tractate Berachot 26b). Just as the korbanot involved two separate aspects, so do our prayers. The text of our prayers was composed by the 120 elders of the Men of the Great Assembly, some of whom were prophets. These great men understood the world and all the mystical forces involved therein. When they composed the prayers, each word was carefully weighed and placed in such a way that it would have a tremendous spiritual and mystical impact. This is the first aspect of prayer. Just like the korbanot, our prayers involve profound ideas and forces that most people cannot understand.

However, prayer also shares the korban's second aspect. In both, the general populace have the opportunity to be inspired by standing before Hashem. When a person brought a korban, they did not necessarily have the deep intentions that the kohanim did. They were, however, inspired by the experience. In the same way, we do not necessarily understand the profound concepts behind our prayers. We can, however, be inspired by the experience of standing before Hashem. Even if a person does not understand the words, it is still important for him to pray because it creates a connection with Hashem. This is the main goal of our prayers. Once a person does this, the next step is to develop an understanding of the prayers. He can begin with the simple translation, and then work his way into the various commentaries.

There is another related lesson to be learned from korbanot. One of the korbanot was a gift-offering. This offering was not an obligation as others were. Rather, a person who wanted to "donate" something to Hashem would bring an animal on his own accord and offer it as a gift. The Steipler Rav, a leading Torah sage of the previous generation, asks why these were merely voluntary donations. If bringing this type of korban is encouraged for properly serving Hashem, then it should be an obligation. What is the purpose of giving a person the option to bring this korban?

The Steipler Rav answers that this option is a fundamental way of developing a love for Hashem. The Torah commands us to love Hashem. The Torah would not command us to do something that we cannot possibly do. Therefore, it must be within every person's ability to achieve this feeling of love. What should a person do if this feeling does not come naturally?

The Mesillat Yesharim, the classic 18th century work on Jewish character development, points out that when a person does not have the inner motivation to perform a positive action, he can inspire himself through doing it. Therefore, a person who does not feel motivated to perform a mitzvah can develop that motivation by doing the mitzvah anyway. Using this method, a person can develop a love for Hashem, even if he does not naturally feel that love. By acting, he will develop the emotion. The action through which one does this is by giving to Hashem. By voluntarily renouncing something of one's own for Hashem's sake, one develops a connection with and a love for his Creator.

This, explains the Steipler Rav, is why the Torah instituted the gift-offering, as well as other non-obligatory mitzvot. If these were commanded, a person might perform them as an obligated burden. It is only because this korban is voluntary that it aids in developing that feeling of love. It is critical for a person to feel that he is giving on his own accord in order for that love to develop.

This idea can be easily applied today. Even without korbanot, we still have this opportunity, as there are many ways to "donate" to Hashem. Any time we take on some new mitzvah or we enhance a mitzvah that we are currently performing, for Hashem's sake, we accomplish the same effect. This can take the form of studying Torah, praying, giving charity, doing acts of kindness, or any other mitzvah.

A person must eat a few times a day. If he does not, he will survive, but will feel its absence. This should be our attitude towards our mitzvot and prayers. The korbanot offered us a way of connecting with Hashem. This connection must be reinforced on a daily basis. Now that we live without korbanot, there are still ways to develop this connection. We have the opportunity to approach Hashem in prayer and stand in His presence a few times each day. Also, by enhancing our performance of mitzvot for Hashem's sake, we develop a love that connects us, which may not have existed before. By working on enhancing our concentration on and understanding of our prayers, and by performing mitzvot for Hashem's sake, we can create this connection with Hashem. How could we not take advantage of these wonderful opportunities? Through this connection, may we come closer to Hashem and become deserving of our original connection through the korbanot in the Temple. May it be speedily in our days.


Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Forest Hills, New York.

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