January 16, 2006

1/15/06 Special JVNA Newsletter - Messianic sacrifices

Shalom everyone,

This special Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter is devoted to a consideration of Jewish teachings on animal sacrifices and their possible reinstatement during the Messianic period. I am very grateful to Torah scholar and author Yosef Hakohen for his well-researched set of letters below. They are followed by my previously written material from the question and answer section of “Judaism and Vegetarianism.”

1. Letters by Yosef Hakohen on Jewish Teachings Related to the Biblical Sacrifices

a. The Journey to Unity – 162: The Universal Role of the Temple

b. The Journey to Unity – 163: Temple Offerings: The View of Maimonides

c. The Journey to Unity – 164: Offerings: A Holistic Insight

d. The Journey to Unity – 165: Acceptable and Unacceptable Offerings

e. The Journey to Unity – 166: The Offerings of the Messianic Age

2. Questions and Answers From My Book “Judaism and Vegetarianism” Related to the Biblical Sacrifices

a. If God wanted us to have vegetarian diets and not harm animals, why were the Temple sacrificial services established?

b. During the Messianic Period, when the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, won't the sacrificial services be restored and won't people have to eat meat?

c. How can an Orthodox Jewish vegetarian sincerely recite synagogue prayers for the restoration of the Temple sacrificial services?

d. What about the Chassidic view that, when one is pious and performs Torah mitzvot, he or she elevates the animal by consuming its flesh, since the energy produced from the animal is used to perform mitzvot which the animal could not perform in any other way?

[Materials in brackets like this [] within an article or forwarded message are my editorial notes/comments.]

Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the JVNA, unless otherwise indicated, but may be presented to increase awareness and/or to encourage respectful dialogue.

As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.


1. Letters by Yosef Hakohen on Jewish Teachings Related to the Biblical Sacrifices
The Journey to Unity - 162

Introduction: In the next few letters of our series, we will discuss the universal role of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the deeper significance of the offerings which were brought to the Temple. These letters are dedicated to the memory of my father and teacher, Shlomo Ben Avraham Hakohen.

The Universal Role of the Temple

Dear Friends,

According to Jewish tradition, "Adam" - the first human being - was created as an androgynous being that was later divided into two separate beings – one male and one female (Genesis Rabbah 8:1). Where was this androgynous being created? An answer can be found in the Midrash which states that the first human being was created at the site of the future Temple in Jerusalem:

"With an abounding love did the Holy One, blessed be He, love the first human being, as He created him in a pure locality, in the place of the Temple." (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 12)

According to Maimonides, it is the accepted tradition that the site of the Altar in the Holy Temple is the place where "Adam" - the ancestor of all humanity - was created (Beis Habechirah 2:2). All human beings therefore have roots in this sacred site; thus, it is not surprising that Jewish tradition encourages all peoples to make a pilgrimage to the Temple. The following can serve as examples:

According to an ancient biblical commentary cited in the Talmud, Moses taught our people that free-will elevation offerings can be brought to the Sanctuary by both Israelites and non-Israelites (Chullin 13b). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that this teaching of Moses established the universal role of the Sanctuary (commentary to Leviticus 1:2). In this spirit, when King Solomon dedicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem which he built, he prayed to the Compassionate One:

"Moreover, concerning a foreigner who is not of your people, Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name's sake - for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm, and will come and pray toward this Temple - may you hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and fulfill all that the foreigner asks of You; so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your Name, to revere You as does Your people Israel, and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have built." ( I Kings 8:41-43)

In a later generation, the Prophet Isaiah conveyed the following Divine promise concerning the universal role of the rebuilt Temple in the messianic age: "For My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples" (Isaiah 56:7) According to the classical biblical commentators, Radak and Ibn Ezra, this prophecy is in the spirit of the prayer that King Solomon offered when he dedicated the Temple.

One of the most moving descriptions of the universal pilgrimage to the Temple is found in the following prophecy:

"It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Compassionate One's Temple will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, 'Come, let us go up to the Mountain of the Compassionate One, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.' For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of the Compassionate One from Jerusalem." (Isaiah 2:2,3)

The Prophet adds that the spiritual enlightenment which will emerge from this universal pilgrimage will lead to universal justice and peace: "He (the Messiah) will judge among the nations, and will settle the disputes of many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation, and they will no longer study warfare" (2:4).

The Book of Micah includes the above prophecy about the universal pilgrimage to the Temple (4:1-3); however, the prophecy in Micah has the following addition:

"They will sit, each person under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make them afraid, for the mouth of the Compassionate One, God of the hosts of Creation, has spoken" (4:4).

The classical biblical commentators, Radak and Ibn Ezra, explain that the peaceful and pastoral vision of "each person under his vine and under his fig tree" includes all humankind. After the universal pilgrimage to the Temple, the new spiritual enlightenment will cause the earth to become a peaceful garden - a reminder of the Garden of Eden.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/

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The Journey to Unity - 163
Temple Offerings: The View of Maimonides

"It is fitting for a human being to meditate on the laws of the Holy Torah, to know their ultimate meaning and purpose, to the extent of his ability. Yet if there is something for which he finds no reason, and knows no purpose, let it not be a light, trifling matter in his eyes, and let him not break through to rise up against the Compassionate One…Let his thinking about this not be like his thought about ordinary, non-holy matters." (Mishneh Torah of Maimonides – Hilchos M''ilah 8:8)

Dear Friends,

Maimonides - also known as "the Rambam" - wrote a special book called "Guide to the Perplexed" in order to guide certain young Jewish intellectuals of the 12th century who were influenced by Greek philosophy, and who were questioning the value of the mitzvos - Divine mandates. In this book, he suggests that a reason for the offerings was to wean the People of Israel away from the pagan worship of animals. Maimonides explains that the ancient Egyptians and others viewed the animals of the herd as deities; thus, the People of Israel were commanded to take the very animals that these people worshiped and to offer them to the Revered Name. (Guide to the Perplexed 3:46, cited in the commentary of the Ramban – Nachmanides – on Leviticus 1:9)

There were other sages who disagreed with the reason suggested by Maimonides; moreover, other writings of Maimonides indicate that he did not consider this reason to be the only reason. For example, in his classical work on Torah law, the Mishneh Torah, he writes that the Temple offerings are in the category of those mitzvos of the Infinite One which are known as "chukim" - mitzvos which have deep reasons which our finite minds do not yet understand (Hilchos Me'ilah 8:8). And Maimonides adds: "The Sages said that for the sake of the Temple service of the offerings, the world endures."

In the Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Beis HaBechinrah 2:2), Maimonides cites the ancient tradition that Adam, as well as Cain and Abel, brought offerings on the site of the future Holy Temple. Although they had a vegetarian diet, Adam and Abel brought animal offerings, and according to the Talmud, the animal that Adam offered on the Altar was an ox (Avodah Zarah 8:a). The Torah states that Abel "brought from the firstlings of his flock and from the choicest" (Genesis 4:4). These individuals lived in the age before the pagan worship of animals emerged; thus, one cannot say that the reason for their offerings was to wean themselves from the pagan worship of animals!

Maimonides also writes in the Mishneh Torah that in the messianic age, the Temple will be rebuilt and we will once again bring the offerings "according to all the particulars mentioned in the Torah" (Hilchos Melachim 11:1). During the messianic age, all forms of idolatry will be abolished, for all peoples will unite to serve the One Creator; thus, the reason for the Temple offerings in this age cannot be because of a need to wean people from pagan practices, "for the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One" (Isaiah 11:9).

We therefore need to seek a deeper meaning for the Temple offerings, and in this letter, we shall mention two "clues" which can guide us on our quest: The first clue can be found in the Hebrew word for offerings, "korban" – a word which is derived from "karov" (closeness). As the classical biblical commentator, the Ramban (Nachmanides), writes:

"All terms of korban are expressions of closeness and unity." (Commentary to Leviticus 1:9).

In this spirit, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:

"We have no word in Western languages that adequately conveys the concept in the Hebrew term korban. The common German translation opher, deriving from the Latin offero, is related to "offering" in meaning; but unfortunately, in the sense of 'sacrifice,' it has taken on the connotation of destruction, annihilation, and loss - a connotation that is foreign and antithetical to the Hebrew concept of korban…The purpose of a korban is to seek the Divine nearness." (Commentary to Leviticus 1:2)

The second clue can be found in the Hebrew term for God which is used when the Torah introduces the laws of the korban. The term used is "Hashem" - the most sacred Divine Name which expresses the attribute of compassion. As Rabbi Yossi states in Midrash Toras Kohanim (Leviticus 1:2): "Wherever the offerings are mentioned, the Divine Name of Hashem is used, so as not to give heretics the opportunity to degrade the truths of the Torah to the level of pagan delusion." In his explanation of Rabbi Yossi's teaching, Rabbi Hirsch points out that within the Torah, the Divine Name "Elokim" – the Name expressing the attribute of strict justice – is not used in association with the korban. Rabbi Hirsch writes:

"In such a context, God does not refer to Himself by the attribute of strict, unrelenting justice…God does not demand to be appeased through an offering, in accord with the blasphemous pagan delusion. He does not seek vengeance and thirst for blood and accept the dying animal as a substitute for the human being who deserves to die. Rather, the Name Hashem is associated with offerings; God refers to himself by the attribute of compassion. He appears in the full force of His liberating love, which brings into being all life, sustains its existence anew, and grants it a renewed future. The essence of an offering is not killing, but rebirth and renewal of existence. Spiritual and moral awakening and revival; entering into a life more noble and pure; renewing strength for such a life from the never-failing source of God's love – that is the Jewish concept of an offering." (Ibid)

With the help of Hashem, in our upcoming letters, we will begin to explore deep and mystical Torah teachings which can help us to understand how the korban leads to a greater closeness with Hashem, and how it leads to our rebirth and renewal.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings:

1. The classical biblical commentators give different reasons for the Temple offerings, based on sources within the Written and the Oral Torah. These various explanations can be understood as different facets of the same truth. As our sages teach: "The Torah has seventy faces" (Zohar, Vol. 1, 47b).

2. The classical biblical commentator, Radak, suggests that Adam and Abel did not actually slaughter the animals that they offered on the Altar, for at this early stage of human history, human beings did not have permission to kill animals, since their diet was vegetarian. They therefore placed the animals on the Altar, and a Heavenly fire consumed them. (Commentary to Genesis 4:4)

3. As we shall discuss, the Prophets of Israel state that all the offerings – including the animal offerings – will be renewed when the Temple is rebuilt in the messianic age. In this spirit, Maimonides wrote that in the messianic age we will once again bring the offerings "according to all the particulars mentioned in the Torah" (Hilchos Melachim 11:1). Will we ever reach a stage in human history when all the offerings will be vegetarian? Following our future discussion on the deeper meaning of the korban, we will explore various answers to this question.

Hazon – Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/

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The Journey to Unity - 164
Offerings: A Holistic Insight

Dear Friends,

Some streams of Greek thought emphasized the dualistic nature of the human being – the separation between the soul and the body, as well as the separation between the physical and the spiritual. This focus on dualism had a great influence on the development of western culture and the development of Christianity. This western view was opposed to the ancient Jewish view which emphasized the unity of body and soul, as well as the unity of the physical and the spiritual. This is why many people who have grown up in western culture have difficulty understanding the earthy and holistic nature of the Jewish spiritual path. The purpose of this letter is to help us to overcome our own western bias in order to better understand the holistic purpose of the "korban" – the sacred Temple offering. In this spirit, we will begin to discuss the following verse:

"O God, You are my God; at early dawn will I seek You. My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You, in a dry and weary land without water." (Psalm 63:2)

It is understandable that the soul - a spark of the Divine Essence - should yearn for God, but why does the "flesh" - the physical body - long for God? The beginning of an answer can be found in a verse where Hashem - the Compassionate One - proclaims:

"They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell within them." (Exodus 25:8)

Two noted biblical commentators, the Alshich and the Malbim, point out that the Compassionate One does not say "I will dwell within it" - the Sanctuary, but "I will dwell within them" - the people. This verse is thereby expressing the idea that through the sacred service of the Sanctuary, including the offerings, the Compassionate One is to dwell within each member of the nation of Israel.

This insight is discussed in the biblical commentary Maor V'Shemesh, written by Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Epstein. In his explanation of the above verse, he cites the ancient teaching of our sages that the Shechinah - the Divine Presence - is to dwell on this earth (Genesis Rabbah 19:7). This includes the human body, states Rabbi Kalman; thus, the words "I will dwell within them" come to teach us that "each and every member of Israel should view himself as if holiness is dwelling within his inner physical organs."

If the human body was created to be a "sanctuary for the Shechinah," then we can understand why we pray: "my flesh longs for You." The body is longing for the Shechinah; it yearns to fulfill the purpose of its creation.

Although there were vegetarian offerings in the sacred service of the Temple, the majority of the offerings in the Temple were animal offerings. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out, the animals used for the offerings were those from the flock that by their nature submit to the human being, but animals of the wild were not used (Commentary to Leviticus 1:2). In what way does this animal offering enable the Shechinah to dwell within our bodies? The beginning of an answer can be found in the following explanation of Rabbi Hirsch:

"The one who brings it offers the 'animal' side within himself, that which still needs to be refined. He sanctifies and purifies his sensory drives by bringing near the 'animal' within himself." (Commentary to Leviticus 1:2 – based on a teaching in Chullin 5a)

Rabbi Elie Munk, a noted Torah educator of the 20th century, elaborates on the above idea in his biblical commentary, "The Call of the Torah," which includes the insights of Rabbi Hirsch, as well as the insights of kabbalistic commentators, such as the Ramban. In his commentary on Leviticus 1:9, Rabbi Munk reminds us that the Hebrew word for "offering" is korban, and he writes:

"The kabbalists point to the origin of the word korban which is based on the word karev - to come closer (Sefer Habahir, 78); thus, korban signifies a coming together of the upper and lower spheres...This means that by offering korbanos on Hashem's Altar, the human being elevates his animal soul so that it can temporarily rejoin its spiritual source. Furthermore, this ritual serves to elevate all of his sensual instincts to the level of holiness, with the result that the offerings bring the human being closer to his God. (This is elucidated in Shiurei Daas 1:15, by Rabbi Bloch of Telz. A similar approach is developed by the Maharal in Gevuras Hashem 69.)"

For our ancestors, the offering of the korban was an intense holistic experience which helped to elevate and purify their physical nature. In addition, many offerings, such as the communal offerings, were accompanied by the beautiful singing of the Levite choir and instrumental music. In fact, the thanksgiving and peace offerings were actually joyous feasts where the person bringing the korban would invite family and friends to share in the sacred meal. (Parts of the animal were offered on the Altar, and the rest was eaten.) There were also atonement offerings which helped a person to feel cleansed and renewed.

One of the major reasons why we mourn the loss of our Temple is because we no longer have the intense holistic and spiritual experience that the korban provided. Our sages, however, remind us that our spiritual path offers other ways of elevating and purifying our physical nature. For example, the table upon which we eat can become an altar, as the Talmud states:

"Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eleazar both explain that as long as the Temple stood, the Altar atoned for Israel, but now a person's table atones for him." (Brochos 55a)

Rabbi Hirsch elaborates on this idea in "Horeb" – his classical work on the mitzvos. In chapter 69, he writes:

"Our sages dedicated the meal as the first step towards the ennoblement of the animal in the human being; thus, the table becomes the altar, and thus you prepare yourself for the meal as for the eating of sanctified foods in the Temple. If you eat only because of pleasure, in order to serve as a tickling of your palate - then your eating is not yet purely human…If, however, you eat only so much as you need, and with the intention of strengthening yourself with the eating for a well-equipped life of righteousness and love, pleasing to God, then your eating becomes human and a Divine service." ( page 337)

Rabbi Hirsch adds: Just as the Kohen (Temple minister) dedicated himself to the service of the offerings by the ritual washing of his hands, so too, we dedicate ourselves to the service of sacred eating by the ritual washing of our hands before eating bread. At the conclusion of his commentary on Leviticus 11:47, Rabbi Hirsch reminds us that the traditional term for this ritual washing of the hands is "Netilas Yadayim" - the uplifting of the hands. This term is therefore conveying the following message: "We must elevate our meal from the realm of bodily, sensual gratification and give it the character of a human, holy act. Indeed, the moral sanctification of every bodily act is the first prerequisite for the sanctification of Jewish life."

As we approach Shabbos – the Sacred Seventh Day - it is relevant to mention a teaching which I found in "The Vision of Eden" (page 276): The holiness of the Shabbos foods is comparable to that of the offerings in the Holy Temple. (Yismach Yisrael)

Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:

1. There are sources within the Jewish mystical tradition which mention that when an animal is used for a korban in a way which is in harmony with Torah teachings, the soul of the animal becomes elevated. There is also a tradition that some animals are reincarnated human souls who were placed in the body of an animal in order to achieve a certain "tikun" – fixing - when the animal will be used for a sacred offering or for sacred eating. This reincarnated soul therefore yearns for its tikun. Rabbi David Sears discusses some of these mystical teachings in his book, "The Vision of Eden – Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism."

2. I was reminded of some of the differences between traditional Jewish culture and modern western culture when an old friend from the United States visited me on her recent trip to Jerusalem. My friend, who is rooted in her own Jewish tradition, has engaged in dialogues with Native American spiritual teachers, and some of them told her that they identify with aspects of traditional Jewish culture. As my friend explained, they like the "tribal" nature of the Jewish people; moreover, they admire the way our sacred festivals are land-based and seasonal. They especially like the way the Torah emphasizes the unity between the physical and the spiritual. In addition, they appreciate the ecological awareness of the Torah, and how the Torah stresses that we should only take from the earth and its creatures what we need.

Hazon – Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/

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The Journey to Unity – 165
Acceptable and Unacceptable Offerings:

Dear Friends,

In the following verses, the Torah describes how Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve, brought offerings:

"After some time had passed, Cain brought an offering to the Compassionate One from the fruit of the ground. Abel, too, brought from the firstlings of his flock and from the best of them, and the Compassionate One turned to Abel and his offering. But to Cain and his offering He did not turn…" (Genesis 4:3-5)

This is the first account of offerings in the Written Torah. In his commentary on these verses, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:

"We find an offering that is rejected, beside an offering that is accepted (and so we find later, at the dedication of the Dwelling Place: the offering brought by Aaron's sons, which was rejected, beside offerings that are accepted). We see, then, that never was absolute value attached to the offerings. This gives the lie to the notion crediting the prophets with being the first to have taught that offerings have only a relative value… Everything depends on the spirit in which the offerings or prayers are offered."

During the biblical period, when we began to prosper in our own land, some people began to view the offerings as a substitute for fulfilling all the ethical and spiritual precepts of the Torah – the Divine Teaching. Yes, there is a "mitzvah" – Divine mandate – to bring certain offerings, but some people forgot that the mitzvah to bring offerings was meant to strengthen our ability to fulfill all the other mitzvos in the Torah. In this spirit, Samuel, the Prophet, reminded King Saul: "Has the Compassionate One as much satisfaction in elevation offerings and feast offerings as in obedience to the Voice of the Compassionate One?" (I Samuel 15:22).

Unfortunately, there were disloyal members of our people who refused to heed the Voice of the Compassionate One, and they adopted the view of their pagan neighbors who felt that deliverance and success depended solely on the fat, the blood, the oil, and the incense of various offerings; thus, these disloyal Israelites felt free to ignore the other mitzvos of the Torah, as long as they brought offerings. Regarding such people, King Solomon wrote, "The offering of the wicked is an abomination" (Proverbs 21:27).

At a later stage of our history, when the wealthy ruling class of Judah rebelled against the mitzvos of the Torah which mandate support and justice for the poor and oppressed, these wealthy people would defend themselves by pointing to their many offerings, and to their lavish celebrations on the New Moon and the Sabbath. In response to their claim to "piety," the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the following Divine rebuke:

"Why do I need your numerous offerings, says the Compassionate One? I am sated with elevation-offerings of rams and the fat of fatlings; the blood of bulls, sheep, and goats I did not desire ...Bring your meaningless flour-offering no longer, it is incense of abomination to Me. As for the New Moon and the Sabbath, and your calling of convocations, I cannot abide falsehood together with celebration of holy days… Wash yourselves, purify yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes; cease doing evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, vindicate the victim, render justice to the orphan, take up the grievance of the widow." (Isaiah 1:11,13,16,17)

"The blood of bulls, sheep, and goats I did not desire" – The classical commentator Rashi explains, "Since you are transgressing my Torah, the offerings of the wicked are an abomination."

"As for the New Moon and the Sabbath, and your calling of convocations, I cannot abide falsehood with celebration of holy days" - Rashi explains, "For these two things are incompatible: to call a convocation to gather before Me, and the iniquity that is in your hearts for paganism, and you do not take it out of your hearts."

Isaiah was not against offerings, nor was he against the celebration of the New Moon and the Sabbath. He was against the pagan attempt to turn these sacred rituals into substitutes for fulfilling the ethical and spiritual precepts of the Torah. In fact, his vision of the spiritual renewal during the messianic age includes offerings, as well the celebration of the New Moon and Sabbath, and the following prophecies can serve as examples:

"And the strangers who join themselves to the Compassionate One to serve Him and to love the Name of the Compassionate One to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasp My covenant tightly - I will bring them to My Holy Mountain, and I will gladden them in My House of Prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for My House will be called a House of Prayer for all the peoples." (Isaiah 56:6.7)

"It shall be that at every New Moon and on every Sabbath all humankind will come to bow before Me, says the Compassionate One." (Isaiah 66:23)

In this letter, we referred to certain hypocrites who brought offerings, while ignoring the ethical and spiritual teachings of the Torah; thus, it is only fair to mention that offerings were brought by many sincere people whose lives were in harmony with Torah teachings. The offering of the prophetess, Hannah, can serve as an outstanding example. She was barren for many years, and after the Compassionate One blessed her with a son, Samuel, she brought to the Sanctuary a thanksgiving offering (1 Samuel 1:24). She then sang a prophetic song of thanksgiving which our sages regard as one of the great spiritual songs of our people. It has allusions to the messianic future, and it also contains the following words of hope for the poor and/or oppressed:

"My heart exults in the Compassionate One…He raises the needy from the dirt, from the trash heaps He lifts the destitute, to seat them with nobles and to endow them with a seat of honor – for the pillars of the earth belong to the Compassionate One, and upon them He set the world. He guards the steps of those who devote themselves to Him with love, but the wicked are stilled in silence; for not through strength does man prevail." (1 Samuel 2:1,8,9)

Much Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

P.S. The above letter was inspired by the ideas expressed in Rabbi Hirsch's famous essay on the offerings which appears in Volume 4 of "Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch" (pages 98-105).

Hazon – Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/

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The Journey to Unity – 166
The Offerings of the Messianic Age:

Introduction: The emergence of the Messiah, a descendant of David, will inaugurate a new age of universal enlightenment and "shalom" – harmony, wholeness, and peace (Isaiah 11:1-10). In this new age, there will also be an ingathering of all the exiles of Israel who will return to Zion (Isaiah 11:11-13). In addition, Jerusalem and the rebuilt Temple will become a spiritual center for all humankind (Isaiah 2:1-4), for the People of Israel will develop a model society which will serve as a light for all the peoples (Isaiah 60:1-3). Maimonides explains that we do not know the exact order and the precise details of how the messianic redemption will unfold. In his classical work, the Mishneh Torah, he writes:

"All these and similar matters a person cannot know how they will happen until they happen, for these matters are undefined in the words of the prophets; moreover, even the sages have no established tradition regarding these matters, but only their interpretations of the verses. There is therefore disagreement among them concerning these matters. Nevertheless, neither the order of the occurrence of these events nor their precise details are among the fundamental principles of the faith." (The Laws of Kings, 12:2)

After the Messianic Age - following the resurrection of the dead - there will be an age of increased enlightenment on earth known as "Olam Haba" – The World to Come. (In Jewish tradition, the term Olam Haba has a double meaning: It refers to the blissful world that the soul enters after departing the body, and it also refers to the new age on earth after the resurrection when the soul will be reunited with the body.) The exact details of Olam Haba on earth were not publicly revealed to us through our prophets; however, the Ramban records some of the teachings from our mystical tradition regarding this age. In his work, Toras HaAdam (Shaar HaGemul), the Ramban describes how the physical body of the human being will become very spiritual in nature during this age, and instead of eating plants and meat, the human being will derive nourishment from "food" of a more spiritual nature. (At a later stage, we will discuss the diet of the preceding Messianic Age.)

Dear Friends,

We will begin our discussion with the following Divine promise of Hashem - the Compassionate One – concerning the messianic age:

"I will bring them to My Holy Mountain, and I will gladden them in My House of Prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for My House will be called a House of Prayer for all the peoples." (Isaiah 56:7 - from a passage which is chanted on fast days)

The main components of the elevation offerings and the feast offerings are animals; thus, the above verse indicates that animal offerings will be part of the Temple service in the messianic age. In addition, the last nine chapters of the Book of Ezekiel describe the Temple of the future, and according to Rashi and some other commentators, these chapters are referring to the Temple of the Messianic age. Within these chapters, one finds a detailed description of the animal offerings of the future Temple. Maimonides therefore writes that in the messianic age, the Temple will be rebuilt and we will once again bring the offerings "according to all the particulars mentioned in the Torah" (Hilchos Melachim 11:1).

This is why the traditional prayers which we chant on the Sabbath and Festivals have a request for the renewal of the Sabbath and Festival offerings, and these prayers specifically mention the animal offerings for each holy day. For example, the Torah tells us that we are to bring a total of seventy bulls as offerings during the seven days of the Festival of Succos (Numbers 29:12-34). The Talmud explains that these offerings are on behalf of the seventy primary nations of the world (Succos 55b). Succos is one of the three pilgrimage festivals when the people of Israel would go up to the Temple in Jerusalem. We can therefore imagine that these seventy offerings on behalf of the seventy nations - which were accompanied by the singing of the Levites and instrumental music - must have been a source of great inspiration for our entire people. We therefore pray in the Musaf Shemoneh Esrei prayer of the Festival of Succos that we merit to once again bring these seventy animal offerings and other related offerings.

There is, however, a fascinating Midrash which limits the amount of animal offerings which will be brought in the messianic age:

"Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Levi, and Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Menachem of Gallia: In the future that is destined to come, all offerings will be abolished, with the exception of the thanksgiving offering." (Leviticus Rabbah 9:7 and 27:12).

Rabbi David Sears cites the above Midrash in his book, "The Vision of Eden" (p. 315), and in his notes, he includes the following information: "The thanksgiving offering consisted of 10 leavened breads, 10 small unleavened loaves, 10 small unleavened wafers, 10 small scaled loaves, and one sheep, goat, or cow less than three years old." According to a noted commentary on the Midrash, Yefeh Toar, the above Midrash is discussing offerings brought by individuals. This Midrash is revealing that the sin offerings which individuals bring will not be needed during the messianic age of spiritual enlightenment when sin will be eliminated, and the only offerings that individuals will bring in this future age are the thanksgiving offerings; however, the communal daily offerings, as well as the communal Sabbath and Festival offerings, will also be brought during the messianic age.

There is a fascinating interpretation of the above Midrash by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, a leading sage of the early 20th century, based on the following messianic prophecy: "Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Hashem as in the days of old and in previous years" (Malachi 3:4). The Hebrew term for "offering" in this verse is "mincha" - a term which usually refers to the flour offering. Rabbi Kook writes:

"Animals achieve tikkun (a spiritual fixing and elevation) by rising to be an offering on the altar to Hashem. Since they do not possess da'as (human wisdom), they are spiritually elevated only by the offer of their blood and fat – the repository of their soul – to Hashem. The human being, on the other hand, comes closer to Hashem through the wisdom of his heart, which gives meaning to the act of the offering. In the future, however, the flow of wisdom will spread and reach even the animals for, 'They will neither injure nor destroy in all My sacred mountain, for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed' (Isaiah 11:9). The offering at that time will be the meal offering from the realm of vegetation, and it will be pleasing unto Hashem as in days of old." (Olas Rayah 1, 292)

The above teaching seems to indicate that the animals will achieve a higher level during the messianic age; thus, they will no longer need to become an offering in order to achieve their tikkun. This conclusion, however, raises a challenging question, for as we explained above, the prophets speak about the renewal of the animal offerings in the messianic age. In addition, Maimonides, the great authority on Torah law, wrote that animal offerings will be renewed in the messianic age. In fact, Rav Kook prayed with great fervor all the traditional prayers for the renewal of these offerings! I therefore asked a friend of mine to consult with his teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Israel Tau, a noted expert on the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, and who heads the Har HaMor yeshiva in Jerusalem. At my request, my friend asked Rabbi Tau to resolve this difficulty, and this is what he replied: There will be two stages within the messianic age, and Rav Kook taught that in the first stage, the animal offerings will be renewed, but in the second stage, approaching the World to Come, the offerings will be vegetarian. The thanksgiving offering during the first stage will include the animal and various loaves, but in the second stage, the thanksgiving offering will just include the loaves.

In order to better understand the idea that animals will be on a higher level in the messianic age, we need to cite the following verses from the prophecy that Rabbi Kook referred to:

"The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp and a fatling together, and a young child will lead them. A cow and bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay. A suckling will play by a viper's hole; and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder's lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One as water covering the sea bed." (Isaiah 11:6-9)

These verses remind us that the goal of the messianic age is to return to the universal shalom of the Garden of Eden, a theme which we shall further explore at a later stage of this series.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:

1. The teachings which we have cited within the recent letters on the Temple and the offerings are meant to lead to further discussion and study, especially since there are many other teachings regarding the role and purpose of the offerings. For example, the Ramban discusses kabbalistic insights as to how the offerings help to bring blessings to the entire world (Commentary to Genesis 2:8). And there are also teachings which indicate that even without the Temple, we have other means of atonement, such as deeds of lovingkindness (Avos D'Rabbi Nosson 1:4), and eating in a holy way (Brochos 55a).

2. As we discussed, the Hebrew word for offering is korban – a word which connotes closeness and unity. Through the korban, we come closer to the One Creator Who is the Source of all unity. If we dedicate all the talents and resources that the Creator gave us to serving the Divine purpose - to further and safeguard the creation (Genesis 2:15) - then each of our deeds can become a korban.

3. Rabbi Zev Leff, a noted Torah scholar in Israel, has a different interpretation of Rabbi Kook's teaching regarding the offerings in the messianic age. Rabbi Leff's oral explanation can be found in the question and answer section on his website. Press down on "Q&A" and then write "vegetarian" on the search line. This issue is discussed in question #1047. The website address is: www.rabbileff.net

Hazon – Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/

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Questions and Answers From My Book “Judaism and Vegetarianism” Related to the Biblical Sacrifices

The following questions and answers, written several years ago, are in the question and answer section of my book “Judaism and Vegetarianism.” They are included here not to refute anything in Yosef Hakohen’s very thoughtful, well-researched letters, but to provide additional insights and food for thought. Sources for my questions below are in “Judaism and Vegetarianism.”

a. If God wanted us to have vegetarian diets and not harm animals, why were the Temple sacrificial services established?

During the time of Moses, it was the general practice among all nations to worship by means of sacrifices. There were many associated idolatrous practices. The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote that God did not command the Israelites to give up and discontinue all these manners of service, because "to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is accustomed." For this reason, God allowed Jews to make sacrifices, but "He transferred to His service that which had [previously] served as a worship of created beings and of imaginary and unreal things." The elements of idolatry were removed. Maimonides concluded:

By this divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the existence and unity of God, was established. This result was thus obtained without confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of a service they were accustomed to and which was familiar to them.

The Jewish philosopher Abarbanel reinforced Maimonides' argument. He cited a midrash that indicated that the Jews had become accustomed to sacrifices in Egypt. To wean them from these idolatrous practices, God tolerated the sacrifices but commanded that they be offered in one central sanctuary:
“Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said ‘Let them at all times offer their sacrifices before Me in the Tabernacle, and they will be weaned from idolatry, and thus be saved.’"

Rabbi J. H. Hertz, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, stated that if Moses had not instituted sacrifices, which were admitted by all to have been the universal expression of religious homage, his mission would have failed, and Judaism would have disappeared. After the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai stated that prayer and good deeds should take the place of Temple sacrifices.

Rashi indicated that God did not want the Israelites to bring certain sacrifices; it was their decision to do so. He based this on a statement by Isaiah in the Haftorah (portion from the Prophets) that is read on the Sabbath when the section in Leviticus which discusses sacrifices is read: "I have not burdened you with a meal-offering, nor wearied you with frankincense." (Isaiah 43:23)
Biblical commentator Rabbi David Kimchi (1160-1235) also suggested that certain sacrifices were never mandatory, but voluntary. He ascertained this from the words of Jeremiah:

“For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt- offerings or sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying, "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.”(Jeremiah 7:22 -23)

Kimchi noted that nowhere in the Ten Commandments is there any reference to sacrifice. Even when sacrifices are first mentioned (Leviticus 1:2) the expression used is "when any man of you brings an offering." The first Hebrew word ki , being literally "if", implies that it was a voluntary act.

While Jewish scholars including Maimonides believed that with the Third Holy Temple, animal sacrifices will be reestablished, other Jewish scholars such as Rav Kook believed that animal sacrifices will not be reinstated in messianic times, even with the reestablishment of the Temple. They base this on a midrash that states that during the messianic period human conduct will have advanced to such high standards that there will no longer be a need for animal sacrifices to atone for sins and, thus, all offerings will cease except the Thanksgiving offering, which will continue forever. The abolition of animal sacrifices is consistent with Rav Kook's view, based on the prophecy of Isaiah (11:6-9), that people and animals will be vegetarian at that time, and "none shall hurt nor destroy on all My holy mountain."

Sacrifices, especially animal sacrifices, were not the primary concern of God. As a matter of fact, they could be an abomination to God if not carried out together with deeds of loving kindness and justice. Consider these words of the prophets, the spokespersons of God:

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)

" ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me?’ saysthe Lord. ‘I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs or of he -goats. . . bring no more vain oblations... Your new moon and your appointed feasts my soul hates; ... and when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood.’ " (Isaiah 1:11-16)

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer me burnt offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace- offerings of your fat beasts. Take you away from me the noise of your song; and let Me n
Ñot hear the melody of your psalteries. But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:21- 4)

Deeds of compassion and kindness toward all creation are of greater significance to God than sacrifices: "To do charity and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice" (Proverbs. 21: 3).

Perhaps a different type of sacrifice is required of us today:
When Rabbi Shesheth kept a fast for Yom Kippur, he concluded with these words: "Sovereign of the Universe, You know full well that in the time of the Temple when a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was fat and blood, atonement was made for him. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Your will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I have offered them before you on the altar, and favor me."

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b. During the Messianic Period, when the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, won't the sacrificial services be restored and won't people have to eat meat?

As indicated previously, Rav Kook and others believed that in the Messianic period, human conduct will have improved to such a degree that animal sacrifices will not be necessary to atone for sins. There will only be non-animal sacrifices to express thanks to God. As mentioned before, Maimonides believed that the sacrifices were only a concession to human weakness to begin with, and, had we not fallen back into idolatry and built the Golden Calf, we might not have had sacrifices at all. So we must ask ourselves: If the Messianic era represents a return to the pristine holiness of Sinai before the Golden Calf was built, why would we need to restore the sacrifices?

While most Jewish scholars assume that all Jews ate meat during the time that the Temple stood, it is significant that some (Tosafot, Yoma 3a, and Rabbeinu Nissim, Sukkah 42b)[1] assert that even during the Temple period it was not an absolute requirement to eat meat. Rabbeinu Nissim characterizes the "requirement" to eat the meat of festival offerings as mitzvah min ha-muvchar, that is, the optimal way of fulfilling the mitzvah of rejoicing on the festival, but not an absolute requirement.

Rabbi Moshe Halevi Steinberg in a responsum points out that vegetarianism for health reasons did not conflict with Halacha even in Temple times. He wrote that one could be a vegetarian the whole year, and by eating a kazayit (olive-size portion which, due to its size, would not damage one's health) of meat, he or she would fulfill the mitzvah of eating the meat of sacrifices. Even a Kohen (priest), could be vegetarian except when his turn came to eat of the sacrifices, during his period of duty (about 2 weeks), when he, too, could eat just a kazayit. According to the Hatam Sofer, since many Kohanim could join together to eat the required amount, the vegetarian Kohen could eat even less than a kazayit. Rabbi Steinberg noted that, among the things listed as disqualifying a Kohen from service in the Temple, vegetarianism is not included, since he could arrange the problem of the eating of the sacrifices in one of the ways listed above. However, Rabbi Steinberg adds, a Kohen who became a vegetarian because his soul recoiled against eating meat would not have been allowed to serve in the sanctuary since, if he forced himself to swallow a kazayit of meat, it would not fulfill the halachic definition of "eating.”

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c. How can an Orthodox Jewish vegetarian sincerely recite synagogue prayers for the restoration of the Temple sacrificial services?

This response is based on an essay by Rabbi David Rosen. He reminds us that (1) Maimonides believed that the sacrifices were a concession to the times (2) Rabbi Kook felt that the Messianic period in which the Temple would be rebuilt will be a vegetarian period, and (3) the Temple service can be maintained without animal sacrifices, as is indicated by the rabbinic teaching that in the future all sacrifices will be abolished, except for thanksgiving offerings. He argues that the liturgy in the Sabbath and Festival Musaph (additional) service need not be understood as expressing a hope for the restoration of animal sacrifices. Rather, it can be interpreted as a recognition on our part of the devotion and dedication to God that our ancestors showed, and an expression of our hope that we may be inspired to show the same spirit of devotion in our own way.

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d. What about the Chassidic view that, when one is pious and performs Torah mitzvot, he or she elevates the animal by consuming its flesh, since the energy produced from the animal is used to perform mitzvot which the animal could not perform in any other way?

This concept is related to the following Kabbalistic teachings: during the Creation of the universe, the Holy Vessels (Sephirot) which were intended to contain the Divine Light were shattered. "Sparks" of holiness (netzotzot) fell to lower levels, ultimately becoming entrapped in material things. When done with the proper intention (kavannah) by a pious person, mitzvot can "elevate" these sparks back into their proper place in the universe. This process culminates in the coming of the Messiah, and the restoration of spiritual harmony among all Creation. Kabbalists see meat eating as part of this process, since they believe that animals are thus elevated into their proper levels of holiness.

There is also a reincarnational aspect to this teaching. According to the Kabbalists, sometimes a human soul is reincarnated as an animal, but retains its human consciousness, in order to atone for a specific sin. In Shivchei Ha-Ari (16th century collection of stories about Rabbi Isaac Luria), there are several tales about the Ari communicating with human souls in animal bodies. Similar stories are also recorded about the early Chassidic masters. In many of these cases, the soul in the animal asks the Rebbe to use the meat for a specific mitzvah, in order to offset the sin and set the soul free to reincarnate as a human being once again. This, too, is part of the process of "elevating holy sparks."

Yonassan Gershom, a vegetarian Chassidic rabbi from Minnesota, believes that these concepts can be reconciled with vegetarianism. He notes that the process of raising sparks is cumulative, not a self-perpetuating cycle for all eternity. It is also an individualized process. Each human being is born with the mission to elevate specific sparks, and not others. As we come closer to the time of the Messiah, the process of raising sparks through the consumption of meat is also nearing completion. In his book, Jewish Tales of Reincarnation, Rabbi Gershom cites the story of a Chassid who lost his taste for meat, and was later told in a dream that this was because he had completed the elevation of the specific sparks in meat that he was intended to elevate. The Chassid then became a vegetarian.

Rabbi Gershom points to the recent increase in vegetarianism as a possible indicator that many people, like the Chassid in the story, are naturally losing their taste for meat precisely because they have already elevated the sparks assigned to them. In addition, he notes the very cruel treatment of animals today, which is not the way animals were raised and slaughtered in the days when the Chassidic stories originated. At that time, animals were treated as individuals. When the time came to butcher the family cow, the person eating the meat had personal interaction with the animal. Today, however this relationship no longer exists. Most of us do not take our own cow or chicken to the shochet, nor is there much interaction between the shochet and the animal.

After visiting a modern slaughterhouse and viewing current methods of meat production, Rabbi Gershom asserts that the shochtim, no matter how sincere and dedicated they may be, cannot maintain a spirit of holiness while slaughtering hundreds of animals under the mass-production conditions of today's slaughterhouses. In past centuries, an individual blessing was said with kavannah (intention) before slaughtering each animal. But, in today's high-speed industry, many shochtim can only make a single blessing for the whole day's quota of animals. If this is the case, how can there be proper kavannah for the elevation of the souls? Rabbi Gershom asserts that we are now left with the empty shell (klippah) of flesh pots without holiness.

Even in cases where the slaughtering is performed with the proper

kavannah, the process does not necessarily go on forever. Rabbi Yehuda Hirsch of Strettana, a 19th-century Chassidic Rebbe (Rabbi), had once been a ritual slaughterer. So pure and holy was he that flocks of wild doves came of their own accord to lie down under his knife. The Seer of Lublin, upon seeing this miracle, urged Reb (Rabbi) Yehudah's teacher, Reb Urele of Strelisk, to ordain his disciple as a rabbi. But Reb Urele refused, saying that there were thousands of poor human souls reincarnated in the kosher species of animals, and that being a shochet was the proper work for Reb Yehuda. The time came, however, when the flocks of doves ceased to come. Reb Yehuda then gave up the butcher's business and was ordained as a rabbi.

One is tempted to ask whether Reb Yehuda would have been willing to participate in the kosher meat industry as it exists today, given that he would scarcely have time to properly focus his thoughts before slaughtering each animal. It once happened that one of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's followers was thinking about becoming a shochet and asked the Rebbe for his opinion. The Rebbe responded by giving lesson #37 of Likutei Moharan, which explains that the soul of the animal is attached to the blood and that the shochet must have true kavannah in wielding the knife in order to raise the sparks properly. Failure to do so affects not only the animal, but the livelihood of the whole Jewish people because "where there is no Torah, there is no bread" (Pirke Avot 3:17). After hearing this lesson, the disciple decided against becoming a shochet.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Ari) felt that "only a Torah scholar who is God-fearing and eats with proper intent can elevate the sparks of holiness within animals." There is also a Kabbalistic concern about the spiritual effect of meat eating on the person. The Breslover Rebbe stated that only a person who has reached a high spiritual level can be elevated by eating animal foods, and the opposite is also true: a person who lacks this high spiritual level may be further debased by eating animal foods. Rabbi Chaim Kramer, a respected contemporary Breslover scholar, notes in his commentary to Likutei Moharan 37:6 that "when a person eats the meat of an animal which lacks proper shechitah (ritual slaughter), he also ingests the aspects of animal matter, darkness, foolishness, judgments, forgetfulness, and death." In the cases where a sinful soul has reincarnated as an animal, there is the additional danger that, if one is not holy enough to elevate the soul in the meat, then that soul may attach itself to you and, in turn, drag you down into sin. For this reason, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, a major 16th century Kabbalist, expressed the opinion that one should eat a minimum of animal flesh.

Not only is the sinner debased by eating animal foods, but the animals themselves are debased by misuse of their energy, for which the person who ate them will have to answer in the next life. In his book, My Prayer, Lubavitcher Chassid Rabbi Nissim Mindel notes that if one eats a chicken and then uses its energy to cheat or steal, the chicken can demand at the Heavenly Court, "By what right have you taken my life, and involved me in crime, which I would never have committed otherwise?" Rabbi Gershom cites a similar story about animal souls which accused the false Messiah, Shabbetai Zevi, before the Heavenly Court, complaining that he had used their energy to mislead the Jews into heresy. These teachings strongly indicate that raising sparks through eating meat is not something to be taken lightly. This is why the talmudic sages taught, "One who is ignorant of Torah is forbidden from eating meat." This raises the question as to how many of us in this day and age are holy enough to eat meat with the right consciousness to raise the sparks.

As a non-Chassid, I would respectfully agree that it seems hard to see how sparks of holiness can be elevated under modern conditions that involve so much cruelty to animals and do so much harm to people and the world. Also, based on recent nutritional studies, one would be better able to perform mitzvot and other sacred activities through a sensible, nutritious vegetarian diet, rather than by eating meat, with all its negative health connections.

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