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Are You Really Planning to Bring Back those Animal Sacrifices?

Are You Really Planning to Bring Back those Animal Sacrifices?

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Question: Please explain all this business about animal sacrifices in the Temple. Are you really planning to re-initiate this at some point?

Answer: Cain and Abel made vegetable and animal sacrifices. Noah made animal sacrifices. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—all highly enlightened people—made animal sacrifices. And the Torah prescribes a whole slew of sacrifices to be made in the Tabernacle in the desert, and then later in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And guess what? In our prayers, for the past 2,000 years, weve been asking for G‑d to let us rebuild that Temple so that we can start doing those sacrifices, just like He asked us to. So there’s got to be something deep going on here, more than meets the eye.

Q: But the whole thing doesn’t make sense! Charity, prayer, study . . . all those I can understand. But why on earth would G‑d want us to burn animals on an altar?

A: Now, don’t get the idea that you’re the first one to have difficulty with this. It puzzled the students of Maimonides in the 12th century. It puzzled the students of the rabbis of the Talmud. In the Zohar it’s written that the secret of the sacrifices reaches to the secret of the infinite. It’s one of those things that if it doesn’t puzzle you, you just haven’t gotten the facts straight. I think we need to look at this from a very different perspective to make sense of it.

Q: It all looks like just a holdover from pagan rites.

A: It’s clear that there are some major distinctions between the sacrificial order of the Torah and your typical ancient-world pagan rites. For one thing, the rules and regulations were spelled out right there for all to read. In fact, every Jew has an obligation to study the details of the Temple rites. Even little children are supposed to learn everything those priests are to be doing. That’s a far cry from the cult of secrecy that empowered the priestly class of other nations.

There were some other major distinctions: The Temple was considered the property of the people, and daily communal sacrifices reinforced that fact. There were no male or female prostitutes wandering around the courtyards, no orgies or drunken revelry—or self-mutilation. The priests wore modest, standardized clothes, and were held accountable by a people’s court that sat right there at the edge of the Temple complex. Most of the meat was eaten—a lot less waste than what goes on at Safeway or Stop & Shop. And animals were slaughtered in a humane fashion. Definitely a sublime relief from ancient standards. All in all, it must have seemed a very strange place for the average Joe Ancient.

Q: But not to our standards today. If the whole point was to wean the people off sacrificial cultism, then it was good for then. But why should we be praying for it to return? Sure, it’s cool to have a central place for prayer and meditation, with the menorah, the incense, the tablets that Moses brought . . . but why the butcher shop?

A: The main act of a sacrifice was not the physical act of slaughtering an animal. You understand that the sacrificial service was principally a spiritual one.

Q: In what way?

A: Well, for one thing, when a person brought a sacrifice, his mental focus was crucial. If his mind was not focused on the correct meaning and intent of the sacrifice, the whole thing could be deemed useless, or worse.

Q: What sort of meanings?

A: Well, if it was being brought to atone for some inadvertent sin, he had to have in mind some remorse over what had happened. But it went far beyond that: The priests would focus their minds on the higher spiritual spheres, according to esoteric traditions. That explains why they had the Levites singing and the musicians playing. After all, if it was all just a grand barbecue, what need was there for inspirational music? Rather, it was a deep spiritual experience for all involved. You went away truly elevated.

Q: Okay, I can see the experiential quality of it all: an ancient temple with heavenly music and mystical song; priests in flowing robes deep in meditation; mesmerizing, choreographed ritual. It’s an image I hadn’t realized before.

A: Most people don’t.

Q: But I think we could get the elevation without the blood and guts.

A: Well, in fact, today our prayers are in place of the sacrifices. So the principal aspect of the sacrifices was never terminated. Just the outer aspects that the Torah also demands, those are temporarily suspended.

Q: So, if we can have the spiritual experience without dicing meat on the altar, why go back to it?

A: So we need to come to a deeper understanding of what the sacrifices and the Temple are all about.

Q: If you have an explanation, I’m open.

A: Well, perhaps our problem is that we are looking at it from a flat perspective.

Q: Flat?

A: I mean, like trying to understand a multidimensional process from only one dimension.

Q: ?

A: Here’s an analogy: Let’s say you never heard of a telephone, and you’re watching someone walking along the street in an intense conversation. Except that there doesn’t appear to be any second party to this conversation. In fact, he appears to be deeply engaged in an argument with . . . his wrist.

Q: Because his hand is cupped to his ear?

A: Yes. And he’s nodding his head, waving his other arm. Then shouting. Then quiet. Then laughing, and suddenly quiet again . . .

Q: Looks totally nuts.

A: But people do it all the time.

Q: Okay, but it makes sense because we know there’s someone else on the other end.

A: The other end of what?

Q: The phone.

A: That looks even more preposterous. Where exactly is that someone hanging from?

Q: You know what I mean. There’s a mobile phone network. There are signals traveling through the air.

A: Where?

Q: We can’t see all those things, but it connects people over large distances. It’s only our ignorance of those signals and that network and all the sophisticated technology behind it that makes this guy look silly.

A: Exactly. And that’s the same problem we have with sacrifices. We have to realize there’s a whole other dimension here that we don’t see. From that dimension, everything makes sense.

Q: Whose dimension is that?

A: Well, there are higher planes of reality than our own. Spiritual realms. And beyond. There’s a whole chain of worlds working down from the plane of the infinite light until arriving at us and our little physical cosmos down here.

Q: Kabbalah stuff.

A: It’s in the Talmud, too—lots of details in tractate Chagigah about the seven heavens, etc.

Q: So, with sacrifices . . .

A: Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal, explains that the sacrifices were a way of elevating the matter and vitality of this world up to a higher plane.

Q: You know, I read a story about some tzaddik who would meditate and carry his consciousness up to higher places.

A: Actually, anytime someone meditates and prays with focus, he or she is doing that, to some small degree.

Q: So we’re back to square one: Who needs the barbecue?

A: Because that elevates only the human soul. The human soul has many layers. The G‑dly. The rational. The animal within. The sacrifices in the Temple elevated those, plus a whole real animal. It touched not just the spirit, but the body as well.

Q: So the animal became holy?

A: Thereby having a general effect on all the animals in the world—plus the flour and wine that was used with it, which pulled along all the vegetable world; plus the salt and water, which pulled the inanimate realm along with it . . .

Q: Let me get this straight: you’re saying that what prayer accomplishes on a spiritual level, the sacrifices accomplished with the physical world? You’re saying that the Temple was a sort of transformer, to beam up physical stuff into the spiritual realms?

A: You’re getting it. That’s why the space of the Temple was so important. You know that there is a tradition that the place where the altar of the Temple stood, that was the place from which Adam was formed. Cain and Abel made their sacrifices there. Noah made his sacrifices there after the flood. The binding of Isaac took place there . . .

Q: So, why did they all have to use that spot? What’s so special about it?

A: It’s the spot where Jacob had his dream about the ladder and the angels going up and down. He said, “This is the gateway to heaven!”

Q: Hmmm. You mean like what we call in ’Net jargon a portal.

A: Right. Or a transformer. The interface between the physical and the spiritual. That’s what the rabbis mean when they say that when G‑d went about creating this world, the place he started from was the place of the Temple Mount. So, you’ll say, there was no space when G‑d started creating the world. But what they mean is that this is the first link from the higher worlds to this world. Thats where “above” stops and “below” begins. Heaven to Earth. And so, that’s where the transmission line between the two is situated. The portal.

Q: What happens when all this meat and wine gets up there?

A: Obviously, it’s no longer a chewy steak when it’s in a spiritual domain. But we are physical beings, so we can’t really imagine what spiritual roast beef looks like. But there are conscious beings that have no physical bodies, and they are on the receiving end of all this.

Q: You mean angels?

A: That’s what they’re called in English.

Q: I find it hard to relate to the angel thing. I know there are plenty of references to them in the Bible and rabbinical literature . . .

A: Ramban (Nachmanides) says that our souls are more closely related to the angels than to the animals. After all, human beings live principally in a world of ideas and abstractions, more so than in the visceral, tangible world.

Q: Depends who you’re speaking about, rabbi.

A: At any rate, there is no reason not to believe that there is consciousness that is not associated with a physical body. And if we would ask one of those conscious beings whether the Temple sacrifices make sense to him/her/it, it/she/he would likely exclaim that it is one of the few things human beings do that make any sense at all! And I bet they’re real peeved that it’s been stopped all these years.

Q: What do they get out of it?

A: According to the Kabbalah, returning energy.

Q: You mean, like energy bouncing back? What do they need that for? Don’t they get enough when it’s on its way down?

A: Because the energy they get is only direct energy, filtered down through many steps. We get the final, most condensed creative energy to sustain our existence in this world. But, since we are the final stop, we also have the essence of that energy. That’s something they can get only when we elevate matters of our world up to theirs.

Q: You’re telling me those angels have a real interest in our sacrifices?

A: They have a real interest in anything good we do. Any mitzvah we do elevates some aspect of the material world—perhaps not to such an extent as the sacrifices. But the sacrifices provide a paradigm to understand what all mitzvahs are really about.

Q: So are these bodiless conscious beings involved in that as well?

A: Without them, not a single mitzvah would ever get done. The Talmud says that whenever a person does a mitzvah, it is only after the Holy One sends His angels to set everything up for him to do it. And they complete the job, as well. Often, our entire input is no more than making the conscious decision that yes, I want to do this mitzvah.

Q: So really, all of our mitzvahs happen within this larger, multidimensional context.

A: Which is why so many of them are so hard to understand. Like trying to make sense of a single instrument playing its part out of a whole symphony. That’s what each of our mitzvahs is like. Because we see only the material plane.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (117)
May 6, 2016
Animal Sacrifice or Cruelty ?
Why does Hashem design a system in which an animal(that contains no free will) has to atone for the sins of humans?

I can somewhat understand the basic concept of offerings/sacrifice and the symbolism behind it(blood representing passions & fats of the animals pleasures therefore our passions/desires must be in-tune with Hashem)

In this week's parasha Acharei (the Torah portion that is normally read on Yom Kippur) The Scapegoat rite is described and basically a goat is lead into the wilderness and is thrown off a steep cliff! In order to atone for the sins of the Jewish people. This unconscionable act is a method of atonement? Wouldn't this make you more of a sinner due to the fact that you are being cruel to Hashem's creation.

Why doesn't Teshuvah suffice? Why is G-d commanding the Jewish people to participate in such cruel rite? In today's world with its animal rights activists and overall increase in empathy I really can't see these sacrifices making a comeback.
Anonymous
mitzrayim
March 23, 2015
Animal Soul vs. Human Soul
Homosapiens have both an animal soul and an 'angelic' 'divine' soul.

But other animals, animals other than humans only have animal souls without the human/'divine' soul.

There is no moral equivalence between eating an animal and eating a human Professor Martin. You know so intuitively.

And, if you believe that there is no such thing as a transcendental aspect of existence, such as what is called a 'soul' in living creatures, although Judaism specifies that there are different types of souls for humans as opposed to other animals, than you are spiritually and philosophically lost.

The 'animal sacrifice' according to archaeologists was for the purpose of a gigantic massive barbecue. The ancient texts even describe an old fashioned barbecue sauce made out of wine, and carefully making sure that the animals' blood was 'sprinkled' at the 'base of the alter' preventing any blood from getting into the actual food.

Every year, at ritual holiday time, ancient Israelites had a BBQ fest!
The One
Galut
March 23, 2015
sacrifice or killing? Is there a difference?
When you sacrifice an animal, you are killing it. Technically, human beings are animals, we are part of the animal kingdom. So, why not be really holy, and consider sacrificing human beings? I know, the thought is sick and ridiculous. So is the idea, that G-d would forgive us or think of us better if we sacrificed (killed) an animal on an alter. If Judaism recognizes animal sacrifice as a historical part of our culture, something that will never return because we are "better than that", then this is ok. If the Rabbis say that animal sacrifices will return, then we should reject Judaism as barbaric. "We are better than that"!!
Professor Martin
Manhattan
March 22, 2015
Barbecue of the Future, Kosher Lollapalooza
"For your own desire' because the Israelites would bring their best animals to Jerusalem from all over ancient Israel, after the priests would slaughter the animal, the families that brought the animal would eat of the 'sacrifices'.

In the future, there is a massive kosher barbecue, the ancient texts even describe the ancient 'barbecue' sauce as consisting of wine and other ingredients, when all Jewish people worldwide make aliyah to Israel all at once for the sake of freedom of thought for all Jews worldwide. Yes, there will be vegetarian options for the olim who do not eat meat! In orchestrating such a massive party-in-the-streets event, keep in mind that the Woodstock festival brought at least 100,000 teenagers from all over the country to upstate New York; the problems in that event were unforeseeable bad weather, and CIA interference.

Using that is a model for how to orchestrate a massive aliyah of Jews emigrating to israel all at once is clear; celebrities promote it! :)
The One
Galut
March 21, 2015
todah rabah Rabi Tzvi, parshat Vayikrah is due
And the priest shall burn it on the Altar; it is food... to G-d (3:11)Do you think that He needs to eat? Does not the verse (Psalms 50:12-13) proclaim, "Should I hunger, I would not tell you, for the world, and all it contains, is Mine... Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?" But it is not for My desire that you are offering, [says G-d,] but for your own, as it is written (Leviticus 19:5), "For your own desire, you should offer it."

(Talmud, Menachot 110a)


When the Torah refers to the korbanot as "G-d's bread," this is obviously a metaphor; but what is its significance? In what sense are we "feeding" G-d when we offer up to Him ourselves and our material resources in the quest to serve Him?Our sages have said that "G-d fills the world as a soul fills a body." On the human level, food is what sustains "life," which is the assertion of the soul's powers via its physical vessel, the body. And so it is with the divine life-force that suffuses the created existence: "G-d's food" is what we would call whatever it is that asserts the divine reality as a manifest presence in our physical world.With our every act of serving G-d, we fulfill the divine purpose of creation--that "there be for Him a dwelling in the physical realms." We thus breathe life into the world-body, asserting and manifesting its quintessence and soul.

.(The Chasssidic Masters)
Robert Brito Lee
Dominican Republic
March 17, 2015
There is no moral equivalence between an animal's life and a human's life
In Judaism, the 'animal sacrifics' is just a massive kosher barbecue party, the priests and masses get their food this way. In ancient times, everybody in Zion would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, bringing their best animals to be slaughtered and the bringers of the animals would eat the animal at Seder. Part of the purpose of the specific method of sloughier, slitting the throat, is to completely separate blood from food; that is why blood is put at the base of the altar.

Every person has two components of the soul (animal and angelic/human); there is no point in arguing with anti-semites who do not want a giant kosher festival party in which animals are 'sacrificed' i.e. eaten by the priests and by the masses.

Slitting an animal's throat puts a meat eater directly into a psychological communication with the divine; eating processed food in which the animal is not slaughtered in such a way created an emotional disconnect between the animal and the human
Anonymous
Exile
March 17, 2015
Better than sacrifice
... is for Man to continue to murder/kill Man.

Barbaric?

What about eating the body, drinking the blood -- in churches? These rituals sound pretty barbaric to me.
Meira Shana
San Diego
March 17, 2015
To Michael Fenton
No animals, no plants...So what exactly do you yourself eat, then?

If sacrificing these things to G-d so that He can "eat them" (whatever that means) is barbaric, how much more barbaric and arrogant it must be to eat them myself - a mere mortal, don't you agree?

I think we should all stop eating, and disengage from physicality entirely so as not to damage G-d's creation.

Or...we can take the Jewish approach that doesn't morally obligate us to starve to death - that the world was created so that we can uplift it.
David
March 17, 2015
crazy
How can a person take a knife, and slit an animals throat, and think that this will make closer to G-d? Even on an altar, and with saying a prayer? For those who believe in animal sacrifice to G-d, how long will it take before a human sacrifice is considered? Does it make any sense for G-d to create life, then want us to kill this living thing in G-d's name?This can only happen when some people believe they can be holier than others by doing rituals. This is the basis of barbarism and cruelty. Look at the murders at Charlie Hebedo, for people who believe they can be holier by performing a ritual. Or the ISIS beheadings!
Avi
Paris
March 17, 2015
Great article!
Matti
Holland