Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayikra
To dedicate this lesson
Hirsch At Your Table

What is a Korban?

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary


Rabbi Matityahu Clark

דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת להם אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לד' מן הבהמה מן הבקר ומן הצאן תקריבו את קרבנכם: (Lv 1:2)
After the Mishkan is completed, God relates to Moshe the detailed instructions for bringing קרבנות. The first rule: A person who wishes to bring an animal as a קרבן may bring either cattle or sheep.

Many Torah translations use flowery language that subverts the true meaning of the original Hebrew text. The word קרבן is a prime example of this misguided approach to translating biblical terms.

The word קרבן is generally translated as either a sacrifice or an offering. Neither of these words comes close to expressing the true purpose of bringing a קרבן. In fact, no contemporary Western language contains a word that conveys the true meaning of the term קרבן.

The word "sacrifice" implies giving away something valuable for the benefit of others. The word "offering" presupposes an obligation of the giver to make a gift to the recipient. Furthermore, both words connote killing and destruction.

The real purpose of the קרבן process is self-improvement. God does not need to receive sacrifices, nor does He demand gifts from those who seek a relationship with Him. The קרבן is a tool to help the individual establish a personal closeness to God. That closeness itself is an uplifting experience, and it also elevates the person from the status of lowly creature mired in the physical world to a higher spiritual plane. The aim of the procedure is not to benefit God, but to benefit the person who brings the קרבן.

The word קרבן is from the root ק-ר-ב "to approach and come close." A person brings a קרבן in order to bring himself closer to God.

In the verse above, God lists the animals that can be brought as a קרבן. These animals symbolize the concept of helping a person come closer to God. The general category of animal stated in the verse is בהמה (a domesticated animal), one that is subordinate to man’s wishes. More specifically, the individual may choose either בקר (cattle) or צאן (sheep). Each of these animals represents the elevation of man, the ultimate purpose of bringing a קרבן.

When a person uses a cow or sheep to perform basic tasks, such as pulling a plow or providing milk, the animal frees him to engage in more spiritual endeavors – contemplating heaven and earth, appreciating nature, studying Torah.

The ox and the sheep, therefore, represent assisting the person in coming closer to God because they free the person to engage in spiritual pursuits.

The word בהמה is from the root ב-ה-ם "to subordinate to another" and is a derivative of the root ב-ו-ם "to raise". The word בקר is from the root ב-ק-ר "to designate differences." The ox is an independent animal as it can distinguish which grass is healthy and which is not. The word צאן is from the root צ-א-ן "to protect sheep."

This closeness to God is especially important for a Jew since he is entirely dependent upon his relationship with God. With the completion of the Mishkan, the individual has the opportunity to elevate that Divine relationship and attain the highest degree of spiritual and material well-being.

Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
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