March 11, 2011
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #780, Parsha Thought, VaYikra


The third and central book of the Torah, VaYikra, is named after its opening word, which translates as “And He called.” At first glance, it is strange that the name of a book—the central book—should be so ordinary. All this word seems to be saying is that G-d called Moses before speaking to him. What is so significant about G-d calling Moses?

Rashi explains that G-d calling Moses was a sign of the affection He had for Moses. Accordingly, “VaYikra” reflects the love G-d has for Moses, and by extension, for His people—the Jewish people.

What is the central theme of VaYikra? Korbonot, which is usually translated as sacrifices. That these laws are prefaced by the word VaYikra, a word which connotes affection, compels us to conclude that the sacrifices were expressions of G-d’s love for us.

Now the question is why does the offering of sacrifices serve as an expression of love and affection?


One answer lies in the true translation of the Hebrew word “Korban”, which actually means “closeness” rather than sacrifice. The korban was G-d’s way of letting us get close to Him. And, indeed, there is no greater sign of affection for another than allowing that person to get close to us.

This is especially true with regard to getting close to G-d who is Infinite. How can a finite being get close to an Infinite G-d? The answer is that it is impossible. However, G-d, just as He transcends the finite world, so too does He transcend the limits of the infinite. And it is His love for us that motivates G-d to transcend the parameters of both the finite and the infinite. The Talmud coins an expression “Ahava docheket et ha’basar,” that love can impel the flesh and overcome the limitations of space that two people occupy. Similarly, G-d’s love for us allows the diametrically opposite realms of the infinite and the finite to meet.

One may still ask a question: Granted that the Korban is not just a sacrifice but rather G-d’s way of demonstrating His love for us, by which He allows and enables us to get close to Him. But why did we have to offer animal sacrifices? And why do we pray for the restoration of the sacrificial order in the future Temple?

There is a two-part answer to this question:


First, our offering a Korban involves seeking to fulfill G-d’s will. It is the ultimate expression of our love and desire to get close to another when we do what the other wants of us even if we fail to understand why they want it and what is in it for us. If we only give someone that we love a gift that we appreciate, then we are not expressing true love. Only when we give them what they want regardless of how we feel about it does it represent a gesture of genuine and unconditional love.

Second, we must reiterate that a korban is not really a sacrifice. And this is not just a matter of semantics. There is a fundamental difference between a sacrifice and a korban. A sacrifice implies destroying one thing to preserve something else which we deem more important. A korban, by contrast, represents preserving the original, albeit in a different and higher form.

If we think about it, every physical object we use can also be viewed either as a sacrifice or as a korban. For example, when we eat any piece of food, we can view it as the destruction of its original beauty and form for the greater good. That would mean that we sacrificed an apple because we deem our nutritional needs to be more important than leaving the apple the way G-d made it prior to our intervention.

There is a more accurate way of looking at the consumption of that apple. The apple has now been converted into human energy with all of the benefits that ensue from human ingenuity that were nourished by the consumption of that apple. In that scenario, the apple you ate is not destroyed and thus sacrificed for a greater good. Rather the apple is now transformed into a higher life form and has assumed a new and more sublime identity.

The korban we offered in the Beit HaMikdash involved a representation of every form of existence. It required salt—a mineral; flour, oil and wine—vegetation; an animal and a Kohen—a human being. These four aspects of creation offered in the Temple represented all the inanimate, vegetative, animal and human forms that exist throughout the world. When the Kohen offered this korban he was in effect taking all of existence and elevating it to the level of the Divine. Nothing was sacrificed. Everything was elevated. Externally, it may look like a sacrifice, but the inner dynamic of the korban is the validation of all that is offered to G-d.


Perhaps an analogy from the human maturation process will be helpful to put the korban concept into a perspective which will also help us come to grips with the way life will be in the future Messianic Era.

When a child grows and develops into an adolescent and then into an adult he or she does not sacrifice his or her childhood to become an adult. If a child were to sacrifice his or her childhood and be compelled to mature overnight into a full-fledged adult it would be traumatic, daunting, and overwhelming. Rather, a child takes his or her childhood identity and elevates it into a higher form of life. So that while the state of child-hood remains in the adult personality, it is now an elevated child; who is absorbed and subsumed within the more sophisticated state of adulthood.


The ultimate manifestation of the korban ideal will be realized in the Messianic Age. First, the Temple offerings will be reinstated as the Torah states, and we make reference to it countless times in our liturgy. Second, all of existence will undergo the process of korban-elevation, not sacrifice.

Many people fear the unknown and particularly the Messianic Age when we imagine the drastic changes which will occur. Will we recognize ourselves and the world around us? Will the Messianic Age delegitimize our Galut/exile existence?

The answer is that the changes that will occur will not destroy or negate anything that exists in the present that is positive. Gradually and seamlessly we will grow and take our present state of mind into a higher and more delightful state—the ultimate growth and validation; the ultimate korban, united with our Creator.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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