WHAT'S A KORBAN?
Rabbi Yaakov Schwartz
This week we begin to read Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus), the third book of the Torah. Vayikra largely deals with the service of the Kohanim (priests) for the Jewish people to Hashem.
This week we begin to read Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus), the third book of the Torah. Vayikra largely deals with the service of the Kohanim (priests) for the Jewish people to Hashem. It is interesting to note that, for centuries, the tradition in many places has been for Jewish children to begin their study of the Torah with this week's portion. Our sages teach us, "The pure ones should come and deal with purity." What is it about this portion which deems it so important as to be the beginning of a life of Torah study? Would it not make sense to start with something more "practical" or "useful" and "relevant" to today's times?
The solution to this question begins with yet another query. What is a korban (offering) anyway? Is it a present to Hashem? Certainly He does not require our presents. Quite the opposite is true! In his commentary on the Torah, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the great 19th century leader of German Jewry, notes that the word korban comes from the Hebrew word karov which means "to approach". In truth, by bringing a korban we are approaching Hashem and trying to raise our level and attain higher spiritual heights towards Him. By giving something of ours to Hashem, we become closer to Him. This can be likened to a parent whose love for his child continually grows the more the parent gives to the child. We, too, must give up a korban, something belonging to us, and "gift" it to Hashem.
In truth this portion, which marks the beginning of a child's learning, epitomizes chinuch (Jewish education). Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, one of the leading Torah scholars of this century, says that this is teaching Jewish parents that they must "sacrifice" in order to educate their children. Priorities must be set and even wants and desires denied in order to afford our children a proper chinuch. This has been the hallmark of Jewish life for thousands of years. We show our love and come close to Hashem by making "sacrifices" for our children and their chinuch, to learn His holy Torah.
Rabbi Yaakov Schwartz, who was a founding member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel and a teacher at Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently the middle school coordinator and 8th grade rebbe at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore.
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