In Parashat Vayikra, God thoroughly describes five different sacrifices to Moses, three of which are voluntary, and two of which are obligatory. However, all three voluntary offerings – the burnt, meal and peace offerings – serve the exact same purpose: expressing our gratitude and subservience to God. So why do we need all three?
I believe that each of the sacrifices has a very different symbolism linked to it. The burnt offering would be left to burn completely on the altar, as though one was giving himself completely to God.
On the other hand, the meal offering, a vegetable-based offering whose Hebrew name, mincha, means a gift – particularly one of appreciation – is eaten by the priests only.
The peace offering was also eaten by the priests, but a significant portion was also given to the person donating the sacrifice. Its Hebrew name, shelamim, shares a root with the word for completeness. This teaches us that if we want completeness and peace in our lives, we must devote a portion of them to God, others and ourselves – similar to the division of the peace offering.
Meanwhile, the Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, is derived from the root kuf-resh-bet, which means to come close. A sacrifice was a way for people to draw themselves closer to God. Currently, we don’t have the opportunity to give an offering to God, but we do have the opportunity to sacrifice something to bring ourselves closer to God: time.
Many of my friends and fellow students at TanenbaumCHAT have very busy schedules. However, time and again, I am amazed to see how many of them are contributing their time to the Jewish community in Toronto and to Medinat Yisra’el. They always seem to find an opportunity to take some time to bring themselves closer to God and His nation. Even if sacrifices are not relevant today, the idea behind them – giving of ourselves to a higher purpose – remains more relevant than ever.