Towards the beginning of Parashat Tzav we find a depiction of the general korban mincha (“meal offering”), and a similar personal offering brought by the High Priest, Aharon.
Both of these korbanot are perfect examples of why the word korban is best translated as “offering” (as opposed to “sacrifice”) because there is no animal involved, no slaughtering involved, no blood involved, no taking of animal life involved. Furthermore the Hebrew root K-R-V cannot be translated to mean “sacrifice,” as it is used a number of times in chapter 8 to describe how “Moshe brought Aharon and his sons close.” This depiction closely follows a very common translation of K-R-V, which means “close” (as in “come closer,” not “close the door”).
The simple explanation for this is that korbanot are a means of expressing ourselves in the lifelong goal of building a relationship with G-d. While a korban sometimes translates to the death of an animal, the general idea is that the offering — whatever it may be — is meant to give us a leg up in our continued effort to get closer to G-d.
This is why when we watch Moshe “bring Aharon and his sons close,” and we see the very same verb as the one used to describe how korbanot are brought utilized to depict how Moshe readies his brother and nephews for their task through bringing them close to G-d, we understand Moshe is not sacrificing them as an offering. “Vayakrev” simply means “he brought them close.”
This definition of bringing them close is utilized by Rashi, Rabbeinu Bachaye and others, and simply demonstrates that the concept of a “sacrifice” is foreign to Judaism in all forms. We don’t sacrifice things, we give offerings. And we bring offerings to get closer and closer to G-d.
Not living in a time when the korban-ritual is active or in line with our cultural sensibilities, it is sometimes hard to relate to the concept of a korban, or what it means to bring one.
But is it?
Read through chapter 8 of Vayikra, and we find Moshe essentially bringing his brother and his nephews as korbanot through a simple ritual in which he washed them, dressed them in their priestly garb, and anointed each of them with oil, so that they could serve G-d and represent the people in doing so.
And so I think that it’s not far fetched to suggest that the korban culture does not have to be a relic of the past. Just like the korban mincha which did not include an animal and was largely eaten by the kohanim following certain rules, and just as “Vayakrev Moshe” (Moshe brought close) his brother and nephews through readying them to serve G-d, the idea of getting closer to G-d can be alive and well even without a Beit Hamikdash. It just depends on what we value, and how much we are willing to give as an offering.
Avraham Avinu was willing to offer his son because G-d instructed him to. That story has been analyzed by many thousands of scholars over millennia. Suffice it to say for now that G-d does not want (and never wanted) human sacrifice.
But nowadays people do give of their most precious possessions for G-d. Many people live, at great expense, in the community they feel is best for their family. Many people, at great expense, enroll their children in yeshivas and day schools and summer camps, so their children can have a Jewish education parents are not necessarily equipped to provide or supplement at home.
Many people, at great expense, enhance their Shabbos table and their Yom Tov table with delicious food and wine, to make every Shabbos and every holiday special, all in the name of honoring G-d.
(G-d bless those who spend between $50,000 and $100,000 to have their family together in a hotel for Pesach. This is a luxury not required by any Jewish law. And for those who take out a second mortgage on their house in order to do this, I don’t know what to say.)
There is another tragic reality facing many hundreds of families. For reasons beyond the scope of this dvar Torah, they do not want to sacrifice their children in the name of something they don’t believe in. But they do want their children to have a Jewish education. They and their children have been maligned and ostracized, and their offerings to have their children come close to G-d through a Jewish education (and in some cases their being welcome in shul!) is also being rejected by large segments of our community.
I am pretty confident G-d wouldn’t throw Jews out of the Jewish community. G-d accepts all offerings that bring his adherents closer to Him. We should too.