Just a Thought: On temple sacrifices
Israel knows that its existence is an invitation to aggression by those who hate God.
Torah scroll. Photo: Stockbyte
One cannot help but notice in the Torah readings these past few weeks the
emphasis placed on the Temple rituals and animal sacrifices in the Book of
Leviticus. What purpose does the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, have in the
The great philosopher and theologian Prof. Michael
Wyschogrod was perhaps one of the most original Jewish thinkers in the late 20th
century. He observed that the election of a biological people rather than, as in
Christianity, of a community of faith, puts an emphasis on the Jewish corporeal
body that is in covenant with God.
Wyschogrod explains that since it is a
people of flesh and not faith alone, Israel must be ready to sacrifice its flesh
for its faith. This realization is the strength that allowed it to survive the
pogroms, massacres and genocide that pepper Jewish history.
that its existence in the flesh is an invitation to aggression by those who hate
God and take their anger out on Him by attacking Israel. We reject the Christian
incarnation of God in Jesus for we know that God cannot apotheosize man. So
rather than dwelling in us, God dwells among us and thus allows us to be the
obvious target of those who hate Him.
Israel is also aware that by
continuing to have Jewish children, it continues its role as martyrs. Even after
the Holocaust, we in Israel cannot help thinking, upon the birth of a child,
that in just 18 short years it will be its turn to serve in the IDF. Service in
the IDF is indeed a privilege, but a privilege for what?
While respites in
Jewish history like the relative one we are enjoying now exist, they are an
aberration from the truth of Jewish existence. “B’chol dor v’dor omdim
aleinu l’chaloteinu,” In each and every generation they rise upon us to destroy
us. It is the fate of Israel to play its role as Isaiah’s suffering
Jacob L. Wright recently made this point when said that Israel
is a “nation conceived in defeat.” It was our defeats, and not our victories,
that carved our national consciousness. The story of Israel is one in which
almost all of its military battles were lost, but for whom the war, as evidenced
by our continued existence, was won.
WYSCHOGROD BELIEVES the cult of the
Temple with its animal sacrifices was an unreal suspension of the sacrifice of
Israel. In the Temple the people are forgiven and protected. There, the death
that everywhere else hovers over them is diverted to the dumb animal. But
everywhere else, outside Jerusalem, it is not the animals that are sacrificed,
but the Jews!
Perhaps the rabbis understood that the destruction of the Temple
and the cessation of sacrifices put Israel back on the Akeida in place of the
ram used by Abraham. The destruction of the Temple restored the Jewish people to
its role of being the korban, the sacrifice. Therefore, Wyschogrod explains,
there is no need for sacrament in Judaism because without the Temple Israel is
the sacrament. It is for this reason we had the cultic rites in the first place
as they served to suspend Israel’s role as the sacrifice and it is for this
reason we mourn the loss of the Temple and pray for its restoration.
writer is a doctoral candidate in Jewish philosophy and currently teaches in
many post-highschool yeshivot and midrashot.