Facts are God’s arguments; we should be careful never to misunderstand or pervert them. — Tryon Edwards
There is a significant portion of Torah commandments whose rationale is beyond our comprehension. One of the more famous ones is how water mixed with ashes of the Red Heifer, when sprinkled on a ritually impure person, purifies him, but in turn, makes the purifier impure. There are many more such cases. In our modern, science-worshipping age, there are even more Torah commandments that seem to be at odds with our sensibilities and understanding of the world. And when modern culture proclaims that we each have our own truth, that we can each determine for ourselves what is ethical, that there is no absolute truth, that there is no divinely mandated ethic, then it’s a wonder that anybody pays any attention to what the Torah might have to say.
One such area that modern sensibilities have difficulty with is the whole concept of animal sacrifices. Sacrifices are a major component of the entire Book of Leviticus and were the main activity both of the Tabernacle in the desert and of the Temple in Jerusalem.
However, the Meshech Chochma on Leviticus 6:9 says that it’s not only modern man who has a problem with God’s instructions to bring animal sacrifices – it also troubled ancient atheists. The ancient atheist (and modern man) will ask if Ruben sinned, why should an innocent animal pay for that sin with its life? How does sacrificing an animal exonerate or redeem a person? How can the thoughts of a second person, the Kohen who enables the sacrifice, achieve that pardon for the sinner? An atheist, not believing in any of this, rejects the entire premise.
What the atheist and modern man don’t realize is that the whole premise of sacrifices is indeed a foundational principle of the Torah, though we may not understand the underlying cause and effect. Somehow, there is a spiritual reality where, when the Tabernacle and Temple were in existence, the offering of a sacrifice did have an effect (though at some point in our history we abused this mechanism, as the later prophets exhorted that God was sick of our meaningless sacrifices and did see them as cruel murder of innocent animals).
As a result, atheists, in Temple times, were limited to only bringing sacrifices made of grains, so there would be no dissonance between their beliefs and their limited sacrificial service. However, the Kohen who served as the practical and spiritual intermediary to make sure the animal was sacrificed as per the proper ritual, he needed to eat from the meat of the animal he just offered. He was expected to have full concentration and pure purpose in affecting the spiritual rectification that his actions evoked. Once the Kohen ate from the animal he had sacrificed, then the penitent person would have proof that the Kohen was comfortable with the sacrificial actions, had done it properly and believed in the process, and the penitent himself could now partake of the meat of the sacrifice.
May we let go of the blindness of believing only what we can see or understand.
To the memory of my aunt, Sima Frishman z”l, who passed away this week. May the family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.