OU Torah Insights Project
March 25, 2000
Rabbi Joseph S. Weiss
In this weeks parshah, the Torah devotes a relatively large amount of text to detailing the laws of the korbanot. Why does the Torah do this? After all, those who wish to bring korbanot do not need to know the particulars of what to do; that would seem to be the responsibility of the kohanim, who actually carry out the mitzvah. Why present the vast majority of the people of Israel, lay people, access to all of the regulations of the korbanot?
While it is true that only the combination of both the Written and Oral Torot can provide a full understanding of the particulars of the Halachah, one is still struck by the seemingly disproportionate detail presented in the Written Torah regarding these mitzvot, in relation to other, more widely-accessed, mitzvot.
There is, of course, a purpose to this. By making the details of korbanot known to all Jews, the Torah effectively safeguards a crucial service that, if left clouded, could easily have been transformed into religious rites that cater to the most subjective elements of the human personality. This would have disastrous effects, since the worship of God through pure human emotion and impulse is the root of idolatry, as explained by many of our greatest Rabbis (see Meiri, introduction to Avot; Maimonides, Yesodei Hatorah).
The primary deterrent of such behavior is Halachah. In the Tabernacle and, later, in the Temple, the kohanim could give their religious emotions latitude only within the confines of halachic requirements and expression. When the two sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, allowed their desire for closeness to the Divine to be expressed outside of halachic boundaries, they suffered the consequences.
Each of the korbanot in the parshah is introduced with the phrase, "This is the teaching," and each chapter concludes with the refrain that they were to be performed "according to what God commanded Moshe." By emphasizing the Divine nature of these instructions, God tells us how to establish and maintain our relationship with the Divine Creator: We must use our intellect, via Torah Law, to harness and channel the spiritual impulse, which gives us our closest relationship to G-d.
In a world where waves of well-meaning but fuzzy spirituality are sweeping the globe, we as Jews must take to heart and mind the Torahs teachingthat mitzvot and Halachah provide us with the guidance to express our desire and attraction to the Divine.
The Halachah is a possession of all Israel, and we all must therefore claim our heritage of wisdom. To get truly close to Godwhich is what the word korban means at its rootwe need to follow the Torahs direction "according to what God commanded Moshe."
Rabbi Joseph S. Weiss
Rabbi Weiss is rav of Bnai Emunoh Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.