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Parashat Vayikra 5775 — 03/18/2015

Parashat Vayikra 5775 — 03/18/2015

The bulk of our first Parashah in Vayikra is the rules for the offerings made in the Temple (and in the Mishkan before the Temple was built by King Solomon, some 500 years after the Mishkan).  The question arises, what is the purpose of these offerings?  The question becomes especially fraught when we consider that most of the offerings were animals or birds, which were killed in the process, and in some cases completely burned, with no physical benefit accruing to the one making the offering.

Rambam famously answers this question by saying that since the Israelites were accustomed to making offerings, as were all idol-worshipers, Torah allows these offerings as a concession to human weakness, to wean the Jewish nation away from idolatry and to the service of Gd.  Ramban and others take strong exception to this idea.  Indeed, it is hard to understand why a document that is eternal, the blueprint of creation, and is quite terse to boot, would contain such a lengthy and detailed description of rituals that were going to be of relevance only for a fairly short period of time.  Therefore there must be intrinsic meaning in the offerings.

This discussion is of especial interest to students of Rav Kook’s teachings, as it has been widely reported that Rav Kook believes that when the Third Temple is built, there will be no more animal offerings, only grain (minchah) offerings.  This is not entirely true.  R. Morrison explains:

If our opposition to animal slaughter [for offerings] is based … on recognition of the issue’s fundamental morality, then our first step should be to outlaw the killing of animals for food, clothing and other material benefits…

 In the world’s present state, the human race is weak, both physically and morally.  The hour to protect animal life has not yet arrived.  We still need to slaughter animals for our physical needs, and human morality requires that we maintain clear boundaries to distinguish between the relative value of human and animal life.

Although it appears that animal sacrifices are a concession to human weakness, but not in the sense of Rambam.  Rather it is the generalized weakness of the generations that requires, in some way, that animals be slaughtered in order for us to approach Gd.  Now our generations are much weaker still, to the point where even the Temple service would be insufficient to bring us closer to Gd, and in fact, at the time that the Temple was destroyed, the offerings had become rote rituals, incapable of inspiring even decent behavior among the people.  Thus, the Temple was destroyed and the issue of using animals became moot.  It appears that Rav Kook did not discuss the mechanics by which animal offerings uplift the individual and the nation, because our level has fallen to a point where such discussion would not be comprehensible to us – and that is why we do not, in fact, engage in the practice any more.  At such time as Gd will restore prophecy to Israel, Rav Kook intimates that the mechanics will in fact be comprehensible, and the upliftment will in fact be there, and at that time the Temple will be rebuilt and the animal offerings will again take place.

But wait!  There’s more!

In the writings of the Kabbalists, we find a remarkable description of how the universe will look in the future, a world vastly changed from our current reality. … Even the animals in that future era will be different; they will advance to the level of people nowadays (Sha’ar haMitzvot of the Arizal).  Obviously, no sacrifice could be offered from such humanlike animals…. (my bold)

It is about this distant time that the Midrash (Tanchuma Emor 19; Vayikra Rabbah 9:7) makes the startling prediction, “All sacrifices will be annulled in the future.” …

In other words, the need to slaughter animals is a temporary concession to life in an incomplete world.

This obviously casts the question in a whole different light!  What does it mean that animals will advance to the level of people?  It is significant that the Talmud elsewhere (Shabbat 112b) says “If the earlier generations were like angels, we are like humans. But if they were like humans, we are like donkeys.”  This is called yeridat hadorot / degeneration of the generations, and it has been going on more or less since Adam sinned.  We know that before Adam sinned the animals were more human-like, for the serpent was able to talk, and in fact to incite Adam and Eve to sin.  And we can imagine that, just as human life will be rectified in the Messianic age, and we will return to the pre-sin state, so animal life might also be rectified.  Of course, this rectified human life will still be quite superior to animal life; nevertheless animal slaughter will still be as unthinkable as human sacrifice is today.

Our Sages tell us that there are some things about which it is best not to speculate, and this is perhaps one of them.  When prophecy is restored and the Temple is rebuilt, when our consciousness has risen to the point that we see the Divinity in everything and everyone, then there will be no more incompleteness in the world, and slaughtering animals will not only be unthinkable, it will be completely unnecessary.  May it happen speedily in our day!