The book of Leviticus devotes much space to the korbanot, sacrifices, that were offered in the Tabernacle and subsequently in the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem. Inasmuch as the Torah is continually relevant, and the third Temple has not yet—as of this writing—been built, what is the personal relevance of the korbanot to us? After all, we already have the ability to bring G‑dliness into our lives via Torah study, prayer and the mitzvot, comprising intellect, emotion and action—the full gamut of human expression. What more can korbanot contribute to our relationship with G‑d?

Let us look at the particular text in Leviticus (1:2) that introduces us to korbanot. Bear in mind that the word korban literally means to “draw near,” not “sacrifice.” So the following is a literal translation:

“When a person shall draw near—from you—a drawing-near to G‑d, from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall draw near your drawing-near."

The word korban literally means to “draw near,” not “sacrifice.”This verse is speaking of a voluntary offering, and it teaches us a fundamental idea about korbanot: if you want to come near to G‑d, it must come “from you.” Once that is accomplished, bring your personal sheep too.

If we seek to draw close to the G‑dly, to find meaning and depth in all the mundane activities of life, we need to bring ourselves close, and in particular our “animal.” The animal refers to all the aspects of life we share with every creature: getting sustenance, nesting, securing our habitat, caring for our young, recreation and so on.

What comes “from you” that is “yours”? All the categories discussed above—Torah, prayer and mitzvot—are mandatory. They are commands from G‑d. Most of the time in our lives, however, is spent at work, commuting, grocery shopping, cooking, fixing things, filing taxes, etc. Much of these activities are not encompassed by actual obligations—they are “of you.”

The key to bringing our entire life “close” is the understanding that every obligation in Judaism is assembled from the components of everyday life. Charity is fueled by economic activity, the material we use for the Shabbat is mined from the week’s efforts, and the mind we use for Torah study is fueled by glucose derived from our nourishment. Hence, we can be mindful of the ultimate power of ordinary activity and be aware as we engage in it.

For example:

Our preparation and consumption of food nourishes us and gives us strength to live as G‑d challenges us to live.

Our work provides the resources to help others and educate our children.

Seeing the potential for holiness in that which we do is in itself holinessOur recreation gives us calmness and respite, giving us the ability to have the patience and energy we need to use our minds, emotions and bodies as we are directed in the Torah.

If we are aware and mindful of all this whilst engaged in these activities, the ordinary ceases to be ordinary—it becomes part of the holy. The “animal”—e.g., the commute, the work, the dashing through an airport, the putting together of some household object—becomes a profound and meaningful end in itself. Because seeing the ultimate potential for holiness in that which we do is in itself holiness.

By being aware of the ultimate potential of our hitherto ordinary actions—this act of personal korban—we make all parts of our selves and lives that seem just to be a road to somewhere else, into an end in themselves. They do lead to mitzvot and all that, but it is a “scenic route.” The journey itself is uplifting.