God didn’t invent the idea of bringing animal sacrifices, man did. From humankind’s earliest encounters with God, this was a gesture that intuitively expressed a meaningful connection to God. So the Torah doesn’t come to mandate sacrifices as much it comes to appropriate a preexisting form of worship, and then to subtly redefine it.
If the human intuition started from a desire to bring a gift to the gods, the Torah shifts the focus from theocentric to anthropocentric. The most fundamental idea of the institution of korbanot is that a relationship with God is built upon man’s sacrificial gesture. Paradoxically, as we saw with Moshe in the transition from Shemot to Vayikra, only by making yourself small can you achieve greatness.”Redemption is achieved when humble man makes a movement of recoil, and lets himself be confronted and defeated by a Higher and Truer being,” Rav Soloveitchik writes in Lonely Man of Faith.
Is this an ethos relevant to our contemporary society? It isn’t just relevant, it is absolutely vital to it. Our modern day preoccupation with self-actualization, with realizing our potential, represents a positive movement to a deeper appreciation of each person’s tzelem Elokim. But if unchecked, it leads to narcissism and self-worship. There is nothing more desperately needed as a counterbalance than a cultivation of the value of self-sacrifice, of humility and tzimtzum.
When we were primarily agrarian, the most intuitive, authentic way to express this was through animal sacrifice. When you take that authentic expression and transplant it into a completely different reality, sacrifices lose their meaning, and become mechanical cultic rites. Perhaps this was happening as far back as the days of the prophets, when the people had become somewhat more urban, and the prophets complain incessantly that, at best, the sacrifices they bring are meaningless lip service, but at worst, they provide a mantle of religious self-righteousness that excuses countless other sins (much as some religious rites do today).
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il