Tag Archives: Sacrificial Offerings

More Mitzvot of Sacrifices (P#68-79)

The list of positive mitzvot continues with more procedures for sacrificial offerings.

Read the full text here.

Kohanim serving on the Temple Altar (Courtesy: Temple Institute)

Summary: The 68th mitzvah is for a sacrifice to be brought by the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land, if it erred in one of its decisions. The 69th is for a person to bring a sacrifice if they inadvertently transgressed one of the big sins (that would result in a karet punishment – being “cut off” from the nation). The 70th mitzvah is the asham talui, a “conditional guilt offering” that a person would bring if they are not sure whether they committed a sin or not. The 71st is when a person commits a sin unknowingly, ie. they definitely sinned, but they were not aware at the time that it was a sin. This is an asham vadai, an “unconditional guilt offering”. The 72nd mitzvah deals with an “adjustable” offering, korban oleh v’yored, which depends on a person’s financial means. Whatever kind of offering a person brings, they must confess their sins when they do so, and this is the 73rd mitzvah. The next four mitzvot are for the following people to bring a sacrifice after they have healed and been purified: a man or woman who were afflicted with a certain disease affecting the reproductive organs, a woman who has given birth, and anyone who has recovered from tzara’at, loosely translated as “leprosy”. The 78th mitzvah is to tithe one’s cattle and livestock, meaning a tenth of one’s animals were donated to the Temple. Similarly, the firstborn of every animal was donated to the Temple as a sacrificial offering, which is the 79th mitzvah of the Torah.

Insight: Here, the Rambam enumerates many of the Torah’s mitzvot that deal with sacrifices. However, in his other monumental work, Moreh Nevukhim, “Guide for the Perplexed”, the Rambam explains the proper approach to sacrifices. He explains how God never intended for people to bring animal sacrifices at all. In fact, in the Garden of Eden – that perfect world God initially created – there was no death, slaughter, or meat consumption at all! Many of the later prophets repeat the statement that God does not want any animal sacrifices (see, for instance, Jeremiah 7:21-23, or Hoshea 14:3). If that’s the case, why did God command sacrifices to the Exodus generation? The Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim, Part III, Ch. 32) explains:

The Israelites were commanded to devote themselves to His service… But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole of Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that which he is used to; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action.

For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; namely, to build unto Him a temple; “And they shall make unto me a sanctuary” (Exodus 25:8); to have the altar erected to His name; “An altar of earth you shall make me” (Exodus 20:21); to offer the sacrifices to Him; “If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord” (Leviticus 1:2), to bow down to Him and to burn incense before Him… By this Divine plan it was affected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established. This result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them…

Temple Offerings (P#41-67)

The mitzvot continue with services that were performed in the Temple.

Read the full text here.

‘Pilgrimage to the Second Jerusalem Temple’ by Alex Levin

Summary: The 41st positive mitzvah is to offer an additional sacrifice on Shabbat, on top of the usual daily sacrifices. The 42nd, 43rd, 45th, 47th, 48th, 50th, and 51st mitzvahs are to similarly offer an additional sacrifice on Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret, respectively. The 44th mitzvah is to offer the omer grain offering from the day after Pesach, until Shavuot, while the 46th is the special offering of two loaves on Shavuot. The 49th mitzvah is the entire Yom Kippur atonement service (as outlined in parashat Acharei Mot in the Torah). The 52nd mitzvah is to celebrate the three regalim, pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, while the 53rd is specifically to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on these holidays, and the 54th is to rejoice and be happy on these holidays. Mitzvahs #55-58 all relate to the preparation and consumption of the korban pesach, the “paschal lamb”, both on Passover itself and on Pesach Sheni, the second Passover one month later for those who were unable to observe the first Pesach. The 59th mitzvah is to blow the special Temple trumpets, the chatzotzrot. The next three are all general rules regarding sacrifices: an animal that is sacrificed must be at least 8 days old (#60), it must be completely unblemished (#61), and every sacrifice must be salted (#62). The next five are for individuals, when necessary, to bring various offerings to the Temple, such as the ‘olah (“burnt offering”, #63), the chatat (“sin offering”, #64), the asham (“guilt offering”, #65), the shlamim (“peace offering”, #66), and the minchah (“meal offering”, #67).

Insight: In our generation, it is hard to understand the offering of animal sacrifices. The root of the word korban (קורבן), “sacrifice”, means to draw near, karov (קרוב), for it was meant to draw a person closer to God. One would give something that was valuable to them up to Hashem and dedicate it for use in the Holy Temple, similar to how one today might give up a large sum of money to charity for a holy purpose. It is important to note that the animal was not wasted, but was consumed in most cases (except when the sacrifice was brought for the most grievous of sins). The priests serving in the Temple subsisted off of the offerings that were brought by the people. On a mystical level, the bringing of the animal as a sacrifice in the Temple served to elevate its soul, and to liberate any human souls that might have been reincarnated inside the animal, restoring it to Heaven. Today, we are still able to rectify reincarnated souls in this way through the recitation of blessings before and after consuming a food, along with the various mitzvot of the meal table (see, for instance, Sha’ar HaMitzvot on Ekev). The Ba’al HaTurim (Rabbi Yakov ben Asher, 1269-1343) states that the five main types of offerings correspond to the Five Books of the Torah, and one who diligently studies the Torah is considered as if they have brought all five offerings and fulfilled those mitzvot (see his commentary on Numbers 28:1-3).

Further Reading:Will There Be Sacrifices in the Third Temple?

Mitzvot of Temple Services (P#21-40)

The 20th mitzvah was to build the Temple, so the mitzvot continue here with more commandments dealing with the Temple and Temple services.

Read the full text here. 

The (Second) Holy Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE.

Summary: The 21st positive mitzvah of the Torah is to revere and respect the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, while the 22nd is to guard the Temple at all times. The next mitzvah is for the Levites to serve in the Temple, and the one that follows is for the Kohanim to wash their hands and feet before beginning their Temple services. The 25th mitzvah is for the Kohanim to light the Temple menorah, while the 26th is for the Kohanim to bless the congregation. The 27th is to display the “showbread” (lechem panim), a set of twelve loaves representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The 28th mitzvah is to light the incense (Ketoret) in the Temple. The 29th is the mitzvah of esh tamid, to maintain a “perpetual flame” burning on the Temple altar. The 30th mitzvah is to remove the leftover ashes from the altar daily. The 31st is to keep any person in a state of impurity away from the Temple. The 32nd is to honour the Kohanim, while the 33rd is to clothe the Kohanim in the special priestly vestments, as specified in the Torah. The 34th is to properly carry the Ark of the Covenant whenever it needed to be transported, and the 35th is to anoint the priests with the special anointing oil (shemen hamishchah). The 36th mitzvah is to divide the Kohanim up into various “watches”, each serving in the Temple for a two-week shift. On the holidays, however, all the Kohanim would serve together. Generally speaking, a Kohen is forbidden from going to a cemetery or being around a corpse so as not to be defiled by the impurity of death. However, the 37th mitzvah allows for a Kohen to mourn their immediate family members and become impure. The 38th mitzvah is that a Kohen Gadol, the “high priest”, if he needs to get married, must marry only a virgin. The 39th mitzvah is to perform the daily sacrificial offering, which was two sheep per day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. The 40th mitzvah is to offer the minchah, the “meal-offering” of grains.

A replica of the Temple menorah (Credit: Temple Institute)

Insight: Of the 613 commandments, a whopping 314 require the Temple to be performed! That leaves only 299 commandments that we are able to fulfil today, without the Temple. Having said that, the Sages instituted many halakhot to parallel the Temple services. For example, the 21st mitzvah noted above, to revere and respect the Temple, can be applied to revering and respecting the synagogues – which are our places of worship and the closest things we have to a “Temple” today. The 24th mitzvah for the Kohanim to wash before serving is related to netilat yadayim, when we wash our own hands before eating a meal, since the Sages state that a person’s meal table is like the sacrificial altar (see Berakhot 55a and Chagigah 27a). While we no longer have the Temple menorah, we do have the candle-lighting of the Chanukah menorah, as well as the weekly candle-lighting to usher in the Sabbath (for more on this, read: ‘Origins and Mysteries of Shabbat Candles‘). The Kohanim still bless the Jewish people in our prayer services (the 26th mitzvah), and before this the Levites wash their hands, partly in fulfilment of the 23rd mitzvah. Even the sacrificial offerings have parallels, as our prayer services have been instituted corresponding to the Temple offerings. Each prayer that we offer Hashem is likened to a sacrifice, as the prophet Hoshea (14:3) said: “…we shall offer the cows with our lips.” And so, although we cannot fulfil many Torah mitzvot directly, we can fulfil them indirectly through the observance of their corresponding halakhot.