The Eternal Relevance of the Beis HaMikdash

The Book of Vayikra concerns itself primarily with the sacrificial offerings1 which were one of the central services carried out in both the Sanctuary and the Beis HaMikdash.2

The Torah is eternal.3 Its laws and even its stories can provide Jewish men and women of every generation with guidance relevant to their everyday life. This also applies to the laws regarding the sacrifices and the other aspects of the Beis HaMikdash.

The command4 “And they shall make Me a Sanctuary,” requiring the Jews to construct the Beis HaMikdash has a specific goal, as the verse continues: “I, (G‑d), will dwell within.” Moreover, the verse does not use the singular form of the word “within,” which would imply that the indwelling is merely within the physical structure of the Sanctuary and the Beis HaMikdash , but rather the plural form, indicating that G‑d dwells within each and every Jew.

Therefore even when the physical Beis HaMikdash is destroyed because of our sins, every Jew should conduct his home as “a Sanctuary in microcosm.”5 By infusing holiness into his conduct in this manner, he brings about atonement for all the sins he committed in the past, and makes his home fit for G‑d’s Presence. This in turn will bring Divine blessings wherever necessary.

“G‑d desires the Heart”See Sanhedrin 106b.

As mentioned above, one of the central aspects of the service in the Beis HaMikdash were the sacrificial offerings. Every day began and ended with the daily offering, which was brought before all other sacrifices in the morning, and after all the sacrifices before nightfall.7

Among the lessons taught by the daily offering is that G‑d does not necessarily ask a Jew to give all his resources to Him. For the daily offering consisted of only one sheep and a small amount of oil, wine, and salt. Moreover, this was a communal offering purchased with funds to which every individual contributed a tiny amount once a year. And yet this minimal amount was able to bring G‑d’s blessings for everything the Jewish people needed.

For G‑d does not demand that a Jew give away everything he owns. What G‑d does demand, however, is that gifts be made with all one’s heart.8What is most important is not the amount which one gives9 how much energy, money, or other good things but how one gives.

If a gift is made with all one’s heart, even if (for whatever reason) the sum is not great as the daily offering involved only a small portion from each category:10 from the animal kingdom, a sheep; from the plant kingdom, a small amount of wine and oil; and from inanimate matter, salt since one gives with all one’s heart, with vitality and joy, this fulfills G‑d’s intent and draws down His positive influence.

Setting the Tone

The daily sacrifice was brought twice a day, once in the early morning and once before nightfall, and yet it was referred to as the korban tamid, “the continuous offering.” This implies11 that the sacrifices brought throughout the day were influenced by the daily offering. Indeed, for that reason, it was offered before all the other sacrifices.

This also teaches a lesson in regard to the conduct of a Jewish home. As the day proceeds, various factors some concerning the soul and others concerning the body pervade the home environment. The common trait shared by all these concerns is that G‑dly light is not directly obvious in them. For even matters that concern the soul must be carried in a manner that conforms with mortal intellect. This can at times lead a person away from the correct path and bring him to do the opposite of G‑d’s will.

For this reason, at the very beginning of the day, a person makes a total and all-encompassing commitment to G‑d, saying: Modeh Ani “I thankfully acknowledge You, living and eternal King….” As soon as he arises in the morning, he thanks G‑d for returning his soul. He refers to G‑d as “King,” implying that, as befits a commitment made to even a mortal king, he is willing to devote himself with all his heart, even to the extent of giving up his life.

Making this commitment at the beginning of the day has an effect on the hours that follow which the individual uses for his personal affairs. They become permeated with the thanks and commitment expressed in Modeh Ani. Accordingly, the person’s efforts are accompanied by G‑d’s blessings.

This lesson is also communicated by the daily offering. When we start the day with a sacrifice, which in the personal sense means giving oneself over to G‑d, the act becomes tamid, “continuous.” It is not confined to the moment when the commitment is made, but continues throughout the entire day.

Bringing the daily sacrifice involved sprinkling its blood on the altar and offering its fats on the fire burning there. Blood serves as an analogy for vitality, warmth, and energy, while fat serves as an analogy for satisfaction (for indeed satisfaction leads to an increase in the body’s size).12 The implication is that a Jew’s day must begin with a firm commitment to devote his energy to the altar, i.e., to holy matters, and they will be his source of satisfaction. G‑d will then help him carry out this resolution, and this will cause the entire day to be filled with His blessings.

Turning in Teshuvah

The Midrash says13 that the daily sacrifice atones for certain sins which a person committed before the sacrifice is offered. For G‑d gives a person who transgresses an opportunity to rectify his conduct. Throughout a person’s life, he will face difficulties and challenges, and it is possible that he will not overcome a particular challenge. But when he renews his commitment to G‑d, proclaiming with his whole heart: “I thankfully acknowledge You, living and eternal King….” which as mentioned above parallels the daily sacrifice this atones for his earlier conduct.

From the Alter Rebbe onward, Chassidus provides us with profound explanations regarding teshuvah. When a Jew stumbles in his Divine service, heaven forbid, he should not despair or become depressed. On the contrary, he should strengthen his commitment, try to correct his blunder, and compensate for what he failed to accomplish, hoping that G‑d will accept his teshuvah.14

The expression “I thankfully acknowledge You, living and eternal King….” embodies this pledge of teshuvah. It involves the engraving in one’s mind and heart of one’s thanks and commitment to G‑d a firm resolution that one’s “blood and fat,” one’s energy and satisfaction, will be directed to holiness alone.

When this commitment is made, G‑d forgives one’s previous trespasses and grants the person His blessings, satisfying his and his family’s needs in material and spiritual matters.

This spiritual parallel to the daily offering will lead to the ultimate and most essential blessing: that Mashiach will come and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash. He will take us out of our inner, personal exile and out of exile in the world at large, leading us to our Holy Land.15 Then we will actually see the daily sacrifice being offered in the Beis HaMikdash. May this take place speedily, in our days.

(Adapted from Sichos 28 Iyar , 5722)

The Conditional Guilt Offering

The conclusion of Parshas Vayikra mentions the conditional guilt offering which a person would bring when he was unsure if he had committed a sin. (To give an example, a person had two pieces of fat before him, and ate one of them. On being informed that one of the pieces wasn’t kosher, the person is obligated to bring an animal sacrifice referred to as an ashem tolui, a conditional guilt offering.)

There is a difference of opinion among our Sages as to whether or not a person who slaughters an animal designated for this offering outside the Beis HaMikdash is liable for kareis [if he slaughters it intentionally] or is required to bring a sin offering [if he slaughters it unintentionally], as one is liable for slaughtering an animal designated for other sacrifices outside the Beis HaMikdash (shechutei chutz, in Talmudic terminology).

Rabbi Meir holds the person liable, while the Sages do not. Their rationale is that since the conditional guilt offering is brought because of a doubt, it is possible that the person never sinned at all. Accordingly, it is not appropriate to hold him liable for slaughtering the animal outside the Beis HaMikdash , because it is possible that there was no obligation to bring the sacrifice in the first place. In his Mishneh Torah,16 the Rambam rules according to the Sages’ opinion.

There is another difference of opinion among our Sages concerning a conditional guilt offering.17 This involves a person who prepares a conditional guilt offering, but resolves the doubt discovering whether he sinned or not before the sacrifice is slaughtered.

In this instance, the offering is not sacrificed. Rabbi Meir maintains that the designated animal should “go out to pasture with the herd,” i.e., the animal loses its sanctified status. The Sages maintain that the animal should “pasture until it contracts a blemish;” that the animal retains its sacred nature. As such, it cannot be redeemed until it contracts a blemish which disqualifies it for use as a sacrifice.

In this instance as well, the Rambam rules18 according to the Sages, giving the rationale that “A person’s heart is contrite because of his sins. Because he designated the animal as a sacrifice because of a doubt, he decided in his heart to consecrate it.”

The question arises:19 According to the Sages’ opinion (and the Rambam’s ruling) that even when a person discovers that he definitely did not sin, the animal involved remains consecrated because of the decision he made in his heart, it appears that when a person is in doubt, the animal designated for the sacrifice should be considered consecrated. As such, it is difficult to understand the first ruling of the Sages (and the Rambam) mentioned previously, that even if the designated animal was slaughtered outside the Beis HaMikdash, the usual prohibitions do not apply.

This difficulty can be resolved as follows. There are two dimensions to the sanctification of sacrifices:

The first is relevant to man how the person must conduct himself with regard to the animal he consecrated. In this regard, it is sufficient to know that he made a decision in his heart to consecrate it. This applies even if the person later resolves the doubt as to whether or not he had sinned.

The second is relevant to the Torah’s abstract criteria. In this context, an animal designated as a conditional guilt offering is consecrated only when a person indeed sinned, although he himself is in doubt about the matter. When he is unsure as to whether or not he sinned, he can gain atonement via a conditional guilt offering. (When, by contrast, a person knows he has sinned, atonement comes through a sin offering.)

Accordingly, the rationale that “A person’s heart is contrite because of his sins, [and] he decided within his heart to consecrate [the animal],” is significant only with regard to the aspect of the consecration that affects man.20 With regard to the Torah’s abstract criteria, however, the animal is considered a sacrifice only when the person actually sinned.21 Since it is possible that he did not sin, and thus according to the Torah’s abstract criteria, the animal is not considered consecrated, he would not be liable for kareis for willfully slaughtering it outside the Beis HaMikdash. Therefore he is not required to bring a sin offering if he slaughtered it outside the Beis HaMikdash without knowing of the prohibition, because only “when the penalty for willfully transgressing [a prohibition] is kareis , is one required to bring a sin offering for [its] unwitting transgression.”22

The Value of Money

There is another concept associated with the conditional guilt offering. Although a sin offering is brought when one knows that one has sinned, and a conditional guilt offering is brought when one is in doubt about the matter, the conditional offering is more expensive than the sin offering. Ordinarily, the minimal value for a sin offering was a danka, while the minimal value for a conditional guilt offering was two selaim, worth 48 danka.23

Rabbi Yonah explained24 this as follows: Fundamentally, the atonement brought about by a sacrifice comes from the person’s feelings of teshuvah. When a person knows he has sinned, he is naturally aroused to sincere feelings of regret. But when a person is unsure, we have to seek means to inspire such feelings. For this reason, the conditional guilt offering cost more than a sin offering.

This rationale is, however, insufficient. For although teshuvah is necessary, it is not the only element involved. The actual offering of the sacrifice has the power to bring atonement and remove the blemishes created by sin. Thus the different kinds of sacrifices were ordained according to the nature of the blemish created.

This leads to the conclusion that the reason a conditional guilt offering cost more than a sin offering was not merely to inspire sincere teshuvah, but also because a conditional guilt offering must atone for a greater blemish. This raises a question: How is it that the blemish created when one is unsure is greater than that created when one is certain of having sinned?

Subconscious Motivation

This question can be resolved as follows: In general, sacrifices atone for sins committed unintentionally,25 for even a commandment violated unknowingly requires atonement.26 Although the person did not intentionally sin, the fact that his unconscious thoughts led to such behavior is an indication that he is spiritually lacking. For if he was not lacking, he would not have sinned, even unintentionally, as it is written:27 “No evil shall befall the righteous.”

A person is held responsible and therefore must bring a sacrifice for a sin committed unintentionally because it is his fault that he sinned. Before committing the sin, he conducted himself in a beast-like manner. This strengthened his animal soul, leading to his unintentional commission of a sin.

This reflects a further point. A person’s unconscious behavior what he does without thinking is often a powerful indicator of his nature, reflecting his fundamental concerns and sources of pleasure. A tzaddik derives pleasure from G‑dliness, therefore his deeds involve good and holiness. When, by contrast, a person unknowingly commits a sin, this indicates that undesirable factors are his source of pleasure.

Indeed, from a certain perspective, the blemish generated by committing a sin unknowingly can be considered more severe than that resulting from the conscious commission of a sin. The fact that a person consciously performs a deed says nothing about the extent of his involvement. There are times when he does something willingly, but his heart and mind are elsewhere. But when an act is performed without conscious volition, it reveals something about a person’s true nature, telling us about the inner “I” that lies deeper than his conscious self. Instinctively, this inner “I” directs his conduct, leading him to perform certain deeds unconsciously.

Food for the Soul

The above also enables us to understand a statement of the AriZal28 that a person who is careful not to eat even the slightest amount of chametz on Pesach can be confident that he will not sin throughout the year to come.

On the surface, this statement is problematic. Man has been given free choice, and thus has the ability to determine his own conduct. How is it possible to say that his taking care not to eat chametz for eight days will cause free choice to be taken away from him?

The resolution is that the AriZal is speaking about sins committed unknowingly. Although a person did not partake of chametz on Pesach, it is possible that he will willfully perform a transgression, because he retains his free will. But his care in not eating chametz will affect his inner nature, endowing it with a tendency toward holiness.29 As a result, he will not be subconsciously drawn to sin.30

What Brings a Person Pleasure?

The above also helps us understand why the Talmud31 chooses to discuss the conditional guilt offering by using the example of a person in doubt as to whether he ate a piece of non-kosher fat. There are other situations which could have been used to illustrate this concept. Why does the Talmud choose this particular example?

As explained above, a person is obliged to bring a conditional guilt offering when he is in doubt as to whether or not he unknowingly committed a sin. As stated, the unknowing violation of a prohibition can be interpreted as a subconscious expression of the satisfaction a person feels in undesirable matters. In other words, whenever a person is in doubt as to whether or not he has committed a transgression, his doubt is an external manifestation of an inner dilemma: What are his sources of satisfaction? Is it permitted things which bring him pleasure, or does his inner self find satisfaction in forbidden things?

To underscore this concept, when the Talmud seeks to illustrate a situation in which a conditional guilt offering is required, it uses an example involving fat, for fat serves as an analogy for satisfaction.

From a certain perspective, the blemish created by an unknowing transgression is greater than that generated by a voluntary sin. Similarly, being in doubt as to whether one committed a transgression can be worse than knowing one has transgressed. When a person knows he has committed a sin unwittingly, he realizes that he is in need of spiritual improvement; the transgression makes him aware of an inner involvement with evil. But when a person is not definitely aware that he has sinned, his positive self-image can remain intact and he may not appreciate the need for change.32 This shows an even deeper connection with evil, for the person does not even realize something is amiss.

When a person knows he has unwittingly committed a transgression, his fundamental nature remains good; the deed runs contrary to his true self. For this reason, he is conscious that he has transgressed G‑d’s will. He senses the evil within his act, and realizes that this is not who he really is; it is merely the animal soul which drew him after evil. When, however, a person does not realize that he has committed a transgression, this is a sign that the sin does not disturb him; it does not run contrary to his being. For this reason, he does not even notice the sin.

So when a person does not know whether or not he has committed a sin, he must bring a conditional guilt offering a sacrifice which is much more expensive than a sin offering. For the conditional guilt offering must remove a more serious blemish.

Man’s Conception, and G‑d’s

Based on the above, we can understand that when a person is in doubt as to whether or not he violated a commandment, this uncertainty is an indication of a serious spiritual lack. This applies even if he did not actually sin (and therefore is not liable for retribution). The very fact that he has a doubt indicates that he shares a connection with evil. For if he did not share such a connection, he would not have any doubt about whether he had sinned.33 If he is not bothered by the doubt, and remains happy with his spiritual state, believing that his desire for pleasure is centered only on permitted matters, this indicates that his spiritual state is in some ways worse than that of a person who definitely committed a sin, either willingly or unknowingly.

Based on the above, we can resolve the apparent contradiction between the decisions of our Sages mentioned above. When speaking about an individual’s spiritual state, a conditional guilt offering is required from a person who is in doubt as to whether he committed a sin, even when in fact he did not.34 For this reason, our Sages maintain that even if it later becomes clear that a person did not sin or that he definitely did we can be assured that he “decided within his heart to consecrate [the animal].” And therefore it remains consecrated until it incurs a disqualifying blemish.

This applies, however, only with regard to his personal efforts to rectify his spiritual failings. With regard to the Torah’s abstract criteria, “deed is most essential.”35 Punishment is meted out only for actual transgression of the Torah’s commandments.36 Therefore if in fact a person did not violate a transgression (even though he may have a spiritual connection with the sin involved), he is not liable for punishment.

This is what motivated our Sages (and the Rambam) to rule that one is not liable for sacrificing a conditional guilt offering outside the Beis HaMikdash. Since it is possible that the person did not actually sin, according to the Torah’s abstract criteria, a sin offering is not required. For this reason, he is not held liable for sacrificing it outside the Beis HaMikdash.

(Adapted from Sichos Simchas Torah, 5712)