Rabbi Ari Enkin

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

An important lesson we can learn from the Temple sacrifices is the importance of making the PROPER sacrifices by giving of ourselves, making worthy contributions and offering assistance for good causes.

This week’s Torah portion is Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26), and it begins the book of Leviticus. Vayikra deals primary with the animal sacrifices that were offered in the Holy Temple (Beit Hamikdash) in Jerusalem on various occasions and lifecycle events. Some sacrifices were routine, such as the twice daily olah sacrifice that was offered by the priests on behalf of the entire nation, while others were dependent on personal circumstances, such as the different sacrifices one might bring after committing a transgression of the Torah or a woman after giving birth.

Sacrifices are no longer brought since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is because it is not permitted to offer animal sacrifices an place else. Nevertheless, there are a number of lessons that can be learned from the message, meaning, and symbolism of the sacrifices of old.

Sacrifices in Hebrew are known as korbanot. The root of the word “kornabot” is “k-r-v” – meaning to “come close” in Hebrew. We see from here that the entire purpose of sacrifices is to help a person come closer to God. The Talmud teaches that the three daily prayer services that were instituted by the sages were intended to correspond to the sacrificial service in the Temple. For example, every morning of the year a sacrifice was offered in the Temple and again in the afternoon. This is why there is a formal prayer service every morning (the shacharit service) and another service every afternoon (mincha).

Although there were no sacrifices offered in the Temple at night, animals that had been slaughtered before sunset were placed on the altar to be consumed even at that late hour. To recall this service, we yet again have a formal prayer service each evening (ma’ariv). Since there are no korbanot in our day, it is through our prayers that we come “k-r-v” to God.

Cain vs. Abel

Another important lesson we can learn from the sacrifices is to make the proper sacrifices. Giving of ourselves. Contributions. Assistance. Effort and Intentions. Recall that the brothers Cain and Abel both brought a sacrifice to God. Abel’s sacrifice found favor with God, but Cain’s was rejected. We know what happened. Cain was so jealous that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, that he went ahead and killed his brother.

Why was it that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s? One was not exceptionally more spectacular than the other. The answer is: Intention. Effort. Sincerity. What Abel offered as a sacrifice was given from his heart. He put his entire essence into ensuring a respectable sacrifice for God. Cain’s attitude, on the other hand, was more like “let’s get this over with” and “Why waste my best possessions on God?”

We must have the sacrificial attitude of Abel – the sincerity, the well-meaning, the effort, in all that we do. When we pray: Abel. When we give charity: Abel. When we’re asked to do someone a favor: Abel. The difference between a good sacrifice and a bad sacrifice and between acceptance and rejection is simple: It’s called the Abel attitude.

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