Why all of that bloodshed with animal sacrifices in the Temple?
Question submitted to “Ask the Rabbi” by:
Name: Silvian Guranda
City: Cluj-Napoca, Romania
“We see from the Tanach that forgiveness can be obtained (and was given by G-d to the sinner) from repentance alone without a sacrifice (for instance, see the story of David and Natan the prophet – “G-d forgives you” – no sacrifice was involved; see also Psalm 32).
So my first question is: then why blood at all at the Temple, why sacrifice was given in the Torah, if forgiveness from G-d can be obtained without a sacrifice?
And the second: in the coming age of Mashiach, will sacrifice at the rebuilt Temple be needed anymore for obtaining forgiveness from HaShem?
Waiting for your answer – I thank you!”
Rabbi Tully Bryks responds:
G-d is often compared to our Father. We have a direct link to Him and do not need any intermediaries. As such, you are correct that if someone does Teshuvah (repents), one can obtain forgiveness for even the most terrible of sins. Complete forgiveness generally requires three difficult steps (more is required if one wronged another person):
1. Admission of guilt – Not easy as even criminals often rationalize that they were justified in their actions
2. Regret – Someone might be willing to admit that they cheated on a test in school, but regretting it is a whole other level.
3. Resolve to Change – Even if someone admits and regrets their mistake, it is an extra challenge to stop repeating the sin.
It is important to note that even when one offered an animal sacrifice, one would still not be forgiven unless they completed the Teshuvah process. So this would seem to strengthen your question – Why all of the animal bloodshed? After all, one of the commandments that G-d gave us is to safeguard and preserve all of His creations, including animals!
There is a concept in Judaism that the entire world was created for us (humans). This includes the use of animals for human needs, such as food, clothing, spiritual needs and the like (abuse however is never permitted). Here’s one way to explain how it works:
Everything in this world is divided into 4 categories:
1. Domem – Inanimate objects, such as rocks or dirt
2. Tzomeach – Vegetative life, such as plants or trees
3. Chai – Living beings, such as animals, insects or fish
4. Medaber – All human life, regardless of race, religion or nationality
Only the 4th category has the capacity to connect to G-d on the spiritual level. As such, the ultimate goal for every category is to be elevated to the 4th category. When soil is used to nourish a plant, that soil is elevated from category 1 to category 2. When an animal consumes the plant, the plant is now elevated to category 3. When human consumes the animal, the animal is now elevated to highest plane of existence.
While some of the relative moralism our society, which equates animal life to human life, can make us uncomfortable with this concept, we believe the Torah’s morality to be absolute, coming from our perfectly good Creator. Some Hollywood blockbusters help to further blur the unique status of humans in this world (like Finding Nemo and The Lion King).
But based on the Jewish concepts outlined above, consuming animals has the power to sustain us physically (along with elevating the animal), while offering an animal sacrifice has the power to sustain us spiritually (along with an even greater elevation of the animal). The Korban (offering) that relates most to your question is the sin offering. Even accidental sins often contain some form of neglect or apathy. As such, one must do Teshuvah for those as well (unless it was completely beyond one’s control). In the times of the Beis HaMikdah (Holy Temple), this included the bringing of a sin offering. But if we need to do Teshuvah anyway, what does the sin offering accomplish?
Since most of the benefits that that we reap in the heavens are beyond our comprehension, I’ll share a practical benefit in this world: When someone sins against G-d, the Creator of the world, the offender really doesn’t deserve to live anymore. In the times of powerful kings and emperors, if someone sinned against the king, their life was often terminated. G-d is the King of all kings and He is omniscient, enabling Him to know with perfect clarity exactly who the sinners are, without any doubts. Nevertheless, He is merciful and loves us and wants us to learn from our mistakes, rather than be executed. So an animal is killed in our stead, to demonstrate to us in a powerful way that it should have been us losing a life. To further impart this lesson, the sinner’s face is actually physically pushed against the dead animal’s body. This process helps to remind the person of the severity of his actions and inspire him to do Teshuva and genuinely change his ways.
There are many people who readily eat meat, but still view animal sacrifice as barbaric. Such a person clearly has no problem with killing animals, but may not fully appreciate benefits of an offering in the same way he appreciates the benefit of a good steak. But if we understand that an animal offering has the power to change a person’s life, that it can transform a murderer into a righteous person, we may be able to begin to come to terms with this seemingly archaic concept.
Based on just this explanation alone outlined above, it is understandable that the consensus among Rabbinic authorities is that we will resume animal sacrifices when the 3rd Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, it should come speedily in our days!
To learn more, click on any of the suggestions after the footnotes:
 Rambam (Maimonides), Mishne Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah (Laws of Repentance) 1:1
 Talmud Yoma 85B
 Shemos (Exodus) 23:5 and Talmud Baba Metzia 32B
 Talmud Sanhedrin 37B
 Sefer HaIkarim, 3:1
 Ramban (Nachmonides) Vayikra 1:9
 Rambam (Maimonides), Mishne Torah, Hilchos Melachim (Laws of Kings) 11:1 and this is also the theme of many of our prayers. Nevertheless, there are minority opinions who maintain that we will no longer have sacrifices in the 3rd Bais HaMikdash.
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