Just a Thought: On temple sacrifices

Israel knows that its existence is an invitation to aggression by those who hate God.

May 10, 2012 17:42
2 minute read.
Torah scroll.

Torah scroll 521. (photo credit: Stockbyte)


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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 Israelite religion?

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.

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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.

Israel knows 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 servant.

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.

The writer is a doctoral candidate in Jewish philosophy and currently teaches in many post-highschool yeshivot and midrashot.

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