The Torah portion Vayikra discusses various types of korbanos, sacrificial offerings, first relating the laws of voluntary offerings and then of obligatory offerings. Why does the Torah begin with free-will offerings; one would think that we should first be made aware of the laws regarding the korbanos that must be brought, and only then learn about the details of the voluntary offerings.
It is the spiritual thoughts harbored by the individual bringing an offering, rather than the offering itself, that are of primary importance.
Thus, our Rabbis say about voluntary offerings: "With regard to the [large] burnt offering of cattle the verse states: '...a pleasing fragrance to G-d.' So too, with regard to the [puny] burnt offering of a bird, the verse states: '...a pleasing fragrance to G-d'.... This teaches us that it matters not whether one gives a lot or a little - as long as one's heart's intent is for the sake of Heaven."
The same was true with regard to the intention of an individual bringing a sin offering. As the Rambam writes: "When a person brings a sin offering, he should realize that he has sinned against G-d... in His kindness, G-d substituted the animal in his stead." It is the thought and intention, and not the sacrifice alone, that brings about atonement.
In fact, one of the roots of the word korban is kiruv, drawing close, indicating that korbanos draw one closer to G-d.
Since a person's intent is so crucial to korbanos, the question arises: Why is it that the Torah seems to fail to mention it?
The answer lies in the fact that the Torah begins the laws of korbanos with free-will offerings rather than - as one might expect - obligatory offerings. By doing so, it indicates that the most crucial aspect of all offerings is that they be offered from a genuine desire to come closer to G-d - "his heart's intent is for the sake of Heaven."
It can thus be said that all korbanos are to be considered free-will offerings, for at the crux of all offerings are the feelings of the individual bringing them.
In fact, the intention required is found within each and every Jew, but when an individual brings a free- will offering, these latent desires are revealed for all to see.
Thus, it is not necessary for the Torah to command this intent, for it is found in any case; bringing the offering will automatically reveal the Jew's innate intention of drawing close to G-d.
The above explains an anomaly regarding korbanos: With regard to a free-will offering, the Torah states: "he must offer it of his own free will." In reconciling the seeming contradiction between "he must offer it" and "of his own free will," the Gemara says: "He is pressured until he says: 'I want to [bring the offering].' "
The Rambam explains this concept (as it applies to a recalcitrant husband's "free will" issuance of a divorce) as follows:
"Since he (the balking husband) wishes to act like a Jew, desiring to perform all the mitzvos and distance himself from sin, and it is only his evil inclination that has latched onto him, when he is smitten to the extent that his evil inclination has become weakened and he says 'I want to (give the divorce),' he is surely issuing the divorce of his own volition."
And just as this is so regarding a Jew's intent while bringing an offering - even when he proclaims "I don't want to," his inner desire is to bring one, so too with regard to all other aspects of his life - a Jew always desires to be one with G-d, for as the Alter Rebbe states: "A Jew neither desires nor is able to sunder himself from G-dliness."
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, pp. 9-13
- (Back to text) Menachos 110a.
- (Back to text) Vayikra 1:9.
- (Back to text) Ibid., verse 17.
- (Back to text) Ibid., verse 9; see also Seforno ibid., verse 2.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaBahir 46 (109). See also Zohar, Vol. III, p. 5a; Sheloh, Mesichtah Taanis (211b); Pri Eitz Chayim, Shaar HaTefillah ch. 5.
- (Back to text) Vayikra 1:3.
- (Back to text) Kiddushin 50a.
- (Back to text) Conclusion of ch. 2 of Hilchos Gerushin.
- (Back to text) See HaYom Yom p. 73.
According to Jewish law,
if an individual vows to bring a larger animal for a sacrificial offering and instead brings a smaller one, e.g., he brings a calf instead of a cow, he does not fulfill his obligation. Conversely, if he vows to bring a smaller animal and brings a larger one in its stead, then he fulfills his obligation.
How can a person who vows to bring a smaller animal possibly fulfill his vow by bringing a larger one, when the verse specifically states: "Keep the pledge that you have vowed to G-d your L-rd"? If he brings a larger animal, is he "keeping his pledge"?
In terms of man's spiritual service, this law will be better understood by first examining the general idea of sacrificial offerings, or korbanos:
The word korbanos derives from the Hebrew root karov, to draw close. Thus, we find that at the beginning of the Torah portion of Vayikra, the Torah introduces the concept of korbanos with the statement: "A man who offers (yakriv) of you an offering to G-d." It would seem that the order of the words should be reversed - "A man of you (i.e., from among you,) who offers...."
The Alter Rebbe explains the verse thus: "A man who offers," i.e., in order that a man come closer to G-d (yakriv, "who offers," literally means to "draw close") must bring "of you an offering to G-d." That is, he must bring the offering of himself; he must sacrifice his personal "animal" - the desire for evil that is called the "animal soul" - and thus draw all of himself closer to G-d.
Herein lies the difference between korbanos and all other mitzvos. All other commandments are specific in nature, each one connecting a different part of the individual to G-d. Korbanos, however, are all-encompassing - a person thereby gives himself altogether, and draws himself entirely closer to G-d.
This comprehensive aspect of korbanos is also embodied in the explanation of the Rambam as to why korbanos are able to bring about atonement: While bringing an offering, a person must have his past sins in mind; he will thus realize that the things being done to the animal soul by right should have been done to him. It is only because of G-d's mercy that an animal is substituted in his stead.
Accordingly, an offering takes the person's place because the person is thereby drawing himself entirely closer to G-d.
This also explains why the section concerning offerings begins with free-will offerings, and only then goes on to detail the laws of obligatory offerings. It is because the main purpose of korbanos - to draw oneself closer to G-d - is better accomplished by bringing offerings out of free will than by bringing them because we are commanded by G-d to do so.
In light of the above, we can understand the spiritual basis of the statement that "one who vows to bring a smaller animal for an offering and brings a larger one in its stead fulfills his obligation."
When a Jew vows to bring an offering, he is not so much out to fulfill a vow as he is endeavoring to draw himself closer to G-d. Thus, the actual performance of the vow is encompassed in the general command to bring an offering, which unites the entire Jew with G-d.
When a person vows to bring an offering, he is in fact demonstrating his willingness to give himself to G-d. Thus, his delight in being able to give even more of himself by bringing a larger offering in no way contradicts his vow.
When a person is ready to offer himself entirely to G-d, then, although he begins "small," he is assured that he will ultimately attain "greatness" - every fiber of his being will become great, as he will be wholly united with G-d.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVII, p. 1-7
- (Back to text) Rambam, Hilchos Maaseh HaKorbanos beginning of ch. 16.
- (Back to text) Devarim 23:24.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaBahir, sect. 46. See also Zohar, Vol. III, 5a; Sheloh, Mesichtah Taanis (211b); Pri Eitz Chayim, Shaar HaTefillah, ch. 5.
- (Back to text) Vayikra 1:2.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah beginning of Vayikra.
- (Back to text) See HaYom Yom p. 36.
- (Back to text) Vayikra 1:9.
- (Back to text) Rashi, ibid. 1:2.