The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
Parashat Vayikra 5756 1996
Maimonides offers his "perplexed" reader various explanations
for the commandment to sacrifice (Guide to the Perplexed
3: 32), the most significant of them being that animal sacrifice
is nothing more than a kind of way-station on the road to a completely
spiritual form of worship.
Nachmanides is outraged by this idea: "These words are in
folly superficially attempting to heal a great wound and (solve)
a difficult problem simplistically." They make "the
table of the Lord" (i.e., the altar) seem revolting, in saying
that sacrifices have no purpose other than to placate the evil-doers
and the fools of the world." Does not scripture say that
burnt-offerings are 'of pleasing odor to the Lord' (Lev.1:9)?"
An examination of the implied Biblical sources which Nachmanides
weaves into his words (Jer. 6:14; Malachi 1:7) gives us an indication
of how harshly he judges the explanation of Maimonides. Prof.
Nechamah Leibowitz in her studies has already pointed out the
significance of this unique literary style. It implies that beyond
the theoretical debates about reasons and meanings, Nahmanides
perceived the sacrificial service to be a connection of love and
devotion between Israel and the Holy One Blessed Be He. This is
shown to be so by the text of the Blessing for the restoration
of the Temple service (Birkat Ha'avodah), recited three
times daily in the Amidah prayer: "and may You willingly
receive the burnt offerings and the prayers of Israel speedily,
This applies to all Israel as a whole. Regarding the world of the individual, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi uses images of sacrifice as a stimulus for the pious individual (hassid) to reach heights of revelation and comminion with God.
In the words of the Rabbi (haver) in Halevi's Kuzari: "Afterwards
the pious man (chassid) demands of his powers of imagination
to reveal to him, in imitation of the Divine revelation he truly
seeks, all those most wonderful visions which are stored up in
his soul by his powers of memory, such as 'standing at the foot
of Mt. Sinai' and 'Abraham and Isaac at Mt. Moriah' or such as
the Tabernacle of Moses, the sacrificial service, the coming of
the Honor of God to rest in the Temple and many more. At the same
time he commands his powers of memory to store them up again so
that he does not forget them" (Kuzari, III:5, ed.
Even-Shmuel, Tel Aviv, 1973, p.100; in English, Kitab al Khazari,
ed. H. Hirshfeld , N.Y. 1905, p.138).
The task placed by the author of the Kuzari on the pious
man, to visualize in spirit and imagination the image of the Temple
and the sacrificial service, is exquisitely expressed in Yehudah
Halevi's poem "O My Lord, your dwelling places are lovely":
O My Lord, Your dwelling places are lovely
Your Presence is manifest, not in mystery.
My dream brought me to the Temple of God
And I praised its delightful servants,
And the burnt offering, its meal and libation
Which rose up in great pillars of smoke.
I delighted in the song of the Levites,
In their secrets of the sacrificial service.
Then I woke, and still I was with you, O Lord,
And I gave thanks - for to You it is pleasant to give thanks !
The powers of imagination which were "commanded" to
present the sacrificial service and the "dwelling of God's
presence in the Temple" in the Kuzari succeeded in
presenting a detailed dream. Above the poem the copyist wrote:
"And he said, describing a dream which he had seen",
a dream which emerged from the depth of Halevi's longings, which
reveal themselves in the Biblical hints embedded in this poem.
"Your dwelling places are lovely" (Psalms 84:2) continues
with the words: "My soul longs, indeed it faints from longing
for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for
the living God..."
This kind of personal feeling brought him to a religious experience
as expressed in the words "manifest and not in mystery".
Here again the Biblical reference to Moses (Numbers 12:8) is
self-explanatory and includes both the personal experience and
the national one both of which are so much a part of the teachings
of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi. The synthesis of the national aspect
and the personal side of the poem is reinforced, surprisingly
enough, by the Arabic inscription found in a Leningrad Library
manuscript, published by Y. Yahalom (Pe'amim 46/47, p.72):
"and his longings for the land of Israel overcame him until
he saw himself there in a dream and wrote these verses describing
what he had seen". The careful detail and the sense of actual
presence indicate that same controlled activation of the spiritual
powers of the "pious one" in order to produce a dream
of revelation as expressed in the poem. As the haver said:
"The pious one is the ruler" and the visions of the
service in the Temple bring him nearer to his Creator.
Prof. Ephraim Chazan
Department of Hebrew Literature
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