Thursday, March 18, 2010

How to Understand Korbanos, Rationale vs Spirituality

There is a huge dispute that takes place in this week's Parsha. It is between the Rambam and the Ramban. It is extremely intense and shows the difference between a great Rav using his own rationale to explain complicated matters and a great Rav believing that there must be a deeper meaning (aka a spiritual, not comprehensible by man, meaning). Of course, I am discussing the dispute brought up in the Ramban in Vayikra 1:9 where he goes off on a tangent arguing with the Rambam about Korbanos.

The Rambam, in the Sefer Moreh Nevuchim (3:46) says, "
Scripture tells us, according to the Version of Onkelos, that the Egyptians worshipped Aries, and therefore abstained from killing sheep, and held shepherds in contempt. Comp. "Behold we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians," etc. (Exod. viii. 26); "For every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians" (Gen. xlvi. 34). Some sects among the Sabeans worshipped demons, and imagined that these assumed the form of goats, and called them therefore "goats" [se‘irim]. This worship was widespread. Comp. "And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto demons, after whom they have gone a whoring" (Lev. xvii. 7). For this reason those sects abstained from eating goats' flesh. Most idolaters objected to killing cattle, holding this species of animals in great estimation. Therefore the people of Hodu [Indians] up to this day do not slaughter cattle even in those countries where other animals are slaughtered. In order to eradicate these false principles, the Law commands us to offer sacrifices only of these three kinds: "Ye shall bring your offering of the cattle [viz.], of the herd and of the flock" (Lev. i. 2). Thus the very act which is considered by the heathen as the greatest crime, is the means of approaching God, and obtaining His pardon for our sins. In this manner, evil principles, the diseases of the human soul, are cured by other principles which are diametrically opposite."

In essence, the Rambam says that the reason we, Jews, are required to sacrifice to G-D is simply to counteract idolatry. There is no inherent importance in sacrifices. If there were never any idol worshipers then there would be no need for sacrifices. Once, however, there are people that sacrifice animals to a false god or worship these animals then we receive our commandment to sacrifice to G-D.

The Ramban goes balistic on the Rambam (1:9). He says that the Rambam's words are completely false. One of the proofs he brings is that Noach (Breishis 8:21) brought sacrifices after the flood even though there were no idol worshipers. Also, the Torah says by Noach that there is a "pleasing smell" for G-D. This implies that there is some deeper reason why sacrifices are important and it is unrelated to negating sinners, but rather relates to the spiritual meaning and quality of the sacrifices.

I think this argument is the paradigm for a rational approach to a subject vs a spiritual approach. The Ramban says that it is impossible that G-D would tell us to do something just to negate a desire of ours. It must be that there is a deeper spiritual meaning that is a sod (secret) that is extremely important. This idea shows the school of thought that everythin
g has a spiritual aspect and humans are incapable of understanding G-D's purpose for this world.

The Rambam is of a different school of thought. He looks at Judaism and says that there must be a logical aspect to everything. G-D would not institute a law, especially such an integral one, without a very pressing need. Rambam is telling us that the Jewish people lived in a society where animal worship and animal sacrifice was the central aspect of life. Therefore, G-D realized that there was a need to incorporate this into every day of life. If we look at the Jewish people's history we can see that there was a great desire for idol worship. G-D, in his infinite wisdom, allowed us to fulfill our desire for this in an appropriate way.

These two Rabbis represent the two different schools of thought that exist inside Judaism. There are the "spiritual" Jews that believe everything they do has some type of spiritual meaning. Then there are the Jews that believe that Judaism is full of ideas that are meaningful in life. There are some commandments that are not understood, but the commandments help us experience life in this world as well as the next. That is the question, do Korbanos, and by extension all mitzvos, have meaning in this world or is it all spiritual?


Nonymous said...

If we knew what the answer was in this machlokes, we would solve machlokes today! Oh well... Good post, thanks :)

E-Man said...

I wish we knew the answers, oh well. Have a good shabbos.