In this Parsha we learn about various types of Korbonos (Temple offerings[1]). What was the general purpose of Korbonos and why so many of their details are described?




The topic of Korbonos just as the topic of the Tabernacle is extremely deep and contains some of the most important fundamentals of the Divine Hanhaga and the rectifications we have to perform[2]. However this topic seems very strange for us living in the sixth millennia, almost two thousand years after the last Korbonos were brought by our nation. Indeed the concept of Korbonos is very lofty and pure but we are just too removed from it to even partially appreciate it[3]. The first “real” contact with Korbonos can be felt by reading the books for Neviim (Shoftim, Shmuel, Melachim and the late prophets). One can easily feel that bringing Korbonos for our ancestors was almost like praying for us[4]. This was especially true during the intermediate periods when there was no Mishkan in Shilo and private altars were permitted.


So the Korbonos were used like prayer and together with prayer. (Every Korban was accompanied by prayers as well.) The sin offerings were preceded by a confession; other Korbonos were preceded by praises and thanks to Hashem[5]. Korbonos were also used to attain prophetic inspiration[6]. This is why our forefathers built numerous altars and each time we find that Hashem revealed Himslef to them. In the books of Neviim we also find prophets coming and going to the Bama. In certain cases Korbonos were used to achieve atonement for certain sins, primarily for the ones committed by mistake. Besides the Korbonos brought by individuals there were many Korbonos brought on behalf of our entire nation. We will now discuss some of the foundations behind the Korbonos.


It is very important to first establish the meaning of the word Korban. As we mentioned in our commentary to Parshas Truma, the root of the word Korban is the same as of the word “closeness”. This gives us immediate help in understanding this concept and saves us from making the mistake that the other nations made regarding their “sacrifices”. The whole concept of Korban is the opposite of what the idolaters understood their sacrifices to be. They “sacrificed”, meaning they gave away something in order to “please” their idols and get something back in return. We (lehavdil) brought a Korbon to achieve closeness to Hashem. In this, Korbonos are not any different from the other mitzvos. All commandments are given for this purpose.


The Torah calls Korbonos literarily “the bread of Hashem”. To understand this, we must first ask what the bread is for a human being. Obviously without food we would die. But what is death? It’s separation between the soul and the body. The soul continues to live while the body is buried in the ground. So the food makes sure the soul stays connected to the body and does not leave it. This is exactly what the Korbonos were. In many ways the relationship between Hashem and the world is similar to the relationship between the soul and the body[7]. When mitzvos are not performed, Hashem’s Presence abandons the world. The one difference is that in His kindness He makes sure that the world is sustained on some low level of Divine Hashgacha even when the people are totally sinful. The world does not get totally destroyed when Korobonos or other mitzvos are not performed. Yet the world does fall to a much lower level and in a way this is also a partial death[8].


When the Temple was standing and Korbonos were brought regularly, the Divine Providence was revealed to a far greater extent. The wonderful flow of Good constantly came to this world. With the Temple’s destruction we lost it. However our sages tell us[9] that learning about the Korbonos partially compensates not bringing them, so we will discuss the particular Korbonos. All Korbonos could be brought from only three types of animals (bull, sheep and goat), two types of birds (pigeons or doves) or flour (from wheat or barley). The Korbonos mentioned in this Parsha are Olah, Shlamim, Chatas and Asham, as well as various Minachos (flour offerings). We will describe each one in a few words.


Olah was a wholly burned offering. It was brought voluntarily but our sages had a tradition that it was commonly brought to achieve atonement for the sin of evil or indecent thoughts[10]. Just as the thought is only known to Hashem, so too this Korban was fully burned. There were also types of obligatory Olah brought by individuals on holidays and they are described in Parshas Mishpatim. There was also community Olah brought twice daily and on Shabboses, holidays and other occasions (most of them are described in Parshas Pinchas).


Shlamim was the “Peaceful offering”. It was brought voluntarily and most of it was eaten by the owner, his family and friends and whoever else was invited. Bringing Shlamim was an opportunity to get together with the family near in the Holy City and fulfill a mitzvah. The meat had to be eaten within the city before the end of the next day. A small portion of the animal was given to Kohanim who could eat it with their families.


Chatas and Asham were Korbonos for various sins. These Korbonos were eaten only by Kohanim. Chatas was generally brought when a person accidentally broke a commandment, which has a penalty of Kares (spiritual incision) when broken on purpose. For example, the one that accidentally turned the light switch on Shabbos would bring have to bring a Chatas. Asham was brought only for six types of violations some of which are described in this Parsha and others later on.


The simple reason behind these Korbonos was to “slaughter” the “animal” within the man[11]. After all, it’s our animal nature that makes us do sins, even accidental ones. A sin can include thought[12], speech and action. The sinner thus has compensate by action, speech and thought. He had to press his hands on the head of the animal, confess his sin and think that he deserves to be punished. However Hashem in his mercy required that instead of his organs and blood, the internal organs of the animal is burned and the animal’s blood is sprinkled on the altar. The Kohanim who were generally the Torah scholars of the generation would then eat their portions and pray for the sinner to achieve forgiveness[13].


The Minachos were brought as voluntary offerings in their own right as well as obligatory offering in certain cases. There are also a few particular sins for which if the sinner is poor he would bring a Mincha, but if he is richer he would bring birds or animal Korbonos. In addition many animal Korbonos also required a Mincha to be brought together with it. May we deserve to soon greet the righteous Moshiach and see the Temple service restored, rather than just learning about it!


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[1] Even though the translation “offerings” is not very accurate, I used it due to the lack an appropriate word in English. I avoid using the word sacrifice for reasons described below.


[2] As we mentioned in our commentary to the previous Parshios, the laws of Korbonos had to be kept exactly otherwise they would not achieve the needed rectification. Any minor change in Temple service, if done on purpose was usually punishable by Kares or “Death at the hands of Heaven”. If the change happened by mistake, it would often require a Korbon Chatas to be brought, see below.


[3] Children should start learning Torah from Sefer Vayikra because they are pure just as Korbonos are pure (Midrash Tanchuma, Tzav).


[4] Indeed if we tried to write about a life of some observant Jew today, we would constantly have to mention phrases like “then he went to Shul to catch Shacharis … he interrupted his work and found a minian for Mincha … he remembered he did not dovin Maariv yet, so he drove to catch a late minian in Borough Park …” In the same way describing a life of a Jew three thousand years ago we would mention his bringing Korbonos on numerous occasions. On top of it, since brining Korbonos required ritual purity, we would have to mention his constant going to the Mikva: “… he remembered that on that day he accidentally touched a dead mouse. So on the way to Bama to bringing his Korban Todah he stopped by to immerse in a mikva …”


[5] See Rambam, Maase Hakorbonos 3:15.


[6] Ralbag, Bereishis 6:9; see also Kuzari 2:14; Ramban, Bemidbar 23:1.

[7] See Talmud, Brochos 10a.


[8] The Jews in exile when the Temple is not standing are compared to dry dead bones.


[9] Talmud, Taanis 27b.


[10] Vayikra Raba 7:3.

[11] See Arizal, Taamey Hamitzvos, Vayikra.


[12] A sin which was beyond a person’s control did not require any Korban. For example, a person who leaned against a wall on Shabbos, if a light switch was there and the light turned on, is not at fault and would not bring any Korban.


[13] See Ramban, Vayikra 1:9, see also a mystical explanation of Korbonos there.