We find a haunting passage in this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas. G‑d has delivered to Moses the painful news that he will die in the desert and not lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land. When the people reach the eastern bank of the Jordan, the future inheritance of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, Moses’ hopes rise: Perhaps if G‑d allowed him to come this far, the decree will be annulled and he will lead the Jewish people across the Jordan as well.1 But G‑d informs Moses that His decision is final. He will die in the desertMoses will ascend Mount Avarim and be gathered unto his people, just as his brother Aaron had died before him.2

At this, Moses turns to G‑d and begins to give Him instructions: “Moses spoke to G‑d, saying ... ”3 This is quite a departure from the norm, as usually this expression is used when G‑d is giving Moses instructions to relay to the Jewish people. The word leimor, “saying,” means “let me know if my instructions were carried out.”4 So Moses quite boldly turns the tables on G‑d.

What is Moses’ directive to G‑d?

“Appoint a man over the congregation, who will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the L‑rd will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”5

Although Moses is not completely reconciled to his death in the desert (as we will see later in the Parshah of Va’etchanan), he can not leave the world in peace without knowing that his people will be in good hands.

G‑d accedes to Moses’ request, and instructs him to appoint Joshua as his successor: “Take for yourself Joshua the son of Nun, a man of spirit, and you shall lay your hand upon him. You shall present him before Elazar the Kohen and before the entire congregation, and you shall command him in their presence. You shall bestow some of your majesty upon him, so that all the congregation of Israel will take heed.”6

After this matter is addressed, G‑d then turns back to Moses, and they resume their familiar roles: G‑d gives Moses a command to relay to the Jewish people, regarding the daily sacrificial offering, the korban tamid.

Rashi comments that G‑d was saying to Moses, “Before you command me regarding My children, command My children regarding Me.” This is analogous to a princess who is about to depart from the world and instructs her husband about her children. He replies, “Before you instruct me about them, instruct them about me.”7

Since these two themes are linked—appointing a new leader, and bringing the daily tamid offering—there must be a relationship between them.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that Moses’ primary concern was that the Jewish people not be left “as sheep without a shepherd.” It was not their physical survival that was at stake. After all, they were a community of adults who surely would figure out how to manage in their own land. Who would provide the spiritual guidance they needed?Moses was worried about their spiritual survival. Without a strong leader, who would provide the spiritual guidance they needed to establish a homeland on a strong moral footing, one that would fulfill G‑d’s vision for the Holy Land, His “land of desire”?

And G‑d’s answer to this was the command to bring a korban tamid. Through the act of bringing a daily sacrifice in the Temple, the people would acknowledge that G‑d is the King of the Universe, and that the world runs according to His guidance and providence. By keeping this in mind at all times, the people would not be left “as sheep without a shepherd.”

This concept helps us to understand the purpose of the animal sacrifices. Does G‑d need our meat?

Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai says,8 “Is G‑d perhaps in need of food? The text therefore states, ‘If I were hungry I would not tell you, because the world and its fullness are Mine.’9 It also says, ‘For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.’10 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? It is not for My sake that you bring sacrifices but for your own sake, as is written, ‘You shall sacrifice it from your own will.’ ”11

Since G‑d does not need to eat, then why are sacrifices described in terms of food, as in “My offering, My bread”?

While G‑d certainly does not need physical food, He does have a “need” for nourishment in some form. Just as we live as souls enclothed in bodies, G‑d’s presence suffuses the entire world, sustaining it and bringing it into existence at every moment. Just as we need food to sustain the soul so it can animate the body, G‑d needs the nourishment of our sacrifices to reveal His presence in this world. It’s not that G‑d would not exist without our sacrifices, G‑d forbid. But bringing the offering is one way for us to acknowledge, and thus expose, the G‑dliness present in this world.

When we bring a korban, there are two aspects: what it does for G‑d, and what it does for us. On the one hand, our offerings do bring pleasure to G‑d. The verse describes the sacrifice as “a fire offering, a pleasing spirit to G‑d.”12 Yet, as Ben Azzai explains, the entire purpose of the offering, including the “pleasing spirit,” is not for G‑d’s benefit but for our own.

G‑d’s desire and “need” for korbanot is but one instance of His desire and need for all of creation. Why does He need a world? Why does He need us? Why does He need a world?The most fundamental concept in Chassidic thought is that G‑d created the world because He wanted a relationship with us. He doesn’t need our food, but He does need us to turn to Him on a regular basis and say, “G‑d, we know You are there. We know this is Your world, and we want You to be revealed in it.”

Moses did his part by demanding that G‑d send the appropriate leader who would guide us how to accomplish this. G‑d did His part by providing us with specific instructions—in the form of korbanot and other mitzvahs—by which we can relate to Him, interact with Him and even give Him pleasure. Now we need to do our part. The action is the main thing. Each time we do a mitzvah, each time we give up a little of ourselves or of our hard-earned possessions for the sake of G‑d, we make G‑d’s desire into a reality. We make the world into a home for G‑d.

(Based on an address of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichot, vol. 12, pp. 10–19.)