Va-Yikra and Zakhor
So Many Sacrifices!
"Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.'" (Va-Yikra / Leviticus 1:2).
Every time I read about the sacrifices in the Torah, I am really struck by how foreign it all is. While sacrifice was part of the biblical world, and there are still cultures today who practice it, it just about means nothing to me. I would assume that most of you who are reading or listening to this, have never seen an animal butchered, let alone witness one offered in a ceremony.
This is an example of how our culture works against our need to understand life according to the Torah. The ancient sacrificial system was ordained by God, and it played an essential part in the life of God's people. If we are to develop a biblical world view, we need to discover the relevance of these sacrifices.
There were sacrifices for a great many occasions, both for individuals and for the community. There were sacrifices for wrong actions, for thanksgiving, for cleansing, and for guilt. There were sacrifices made in response to harvesting food, for jealousy between a man and his wife, and in the consecration of religious leaders. Special sacrifices were offered during Sabbaths and festivals. So many sacrifices! The cohenim (priests) and the Levites would be busy all day receiving animals to offer to God.
God commanded that the sacrifices be made. The religion that he instituted demanded it. Animals died. Blood was poured out. To maintain relationship with God these rituals had to be done. I know it is difficult for us to understand, but that is beside the point.
To us the slaughtering of living things for spiritual interests sounds horrible. But we have failed to see how much more horrible our distance from God is. For some reason it was necessary to be continually confronted with death, so that we could find real life in God.
If sacrifice was such a part of biblical ceremony, why is it that it has no place today? The smell and mess of sacrifice provided a striking image of what biblical faith was all about. Yet today's versions of biblical and so-called biblical religions are bloodless.
It may be that the average person believes that the absence of sacrifice in our day has to do with an evolution of thought. They assume that what occurred in history is that people matured from thinking they needed to sacrifice animals. Now we know better, they assert. But that is not what happened.
Judaism stopped sacrificing because of the destruction of the Temple. Knowing that sacrifice was to have a central place in the religion however, the ancient rabbis developed substitutions: prayer, repentance and giving to charity. These substitutions eclipse the meaning of true sacrifice. To claim that our religious activities somehow provide the same things as spilled blood and burnt flesh is to miss the point.
Because of our sins and our rebellion against God, innocent animals had to die in our place. The years and years of sacrifice were to show us that we could not make amends ourselves for our inability to find our way back to God.
The Jewish followers of Yeshua also stopped sacrificing because the Temple was destroyed, but they did not develop substitutes at all. Instead they understood that Yeshua's death was the eternal sacrifice of which the animal sacrifices foreshadowed.
It is by believing in Yeshua that we continue in the sacrificial traditions of the Torah. All the benefits that the ancient sacrifices sought to provide us are ours through him. So maybe then it would be a good idea to get to know what biblical sacrifice is all about.
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