Last week, we discussed the essential underlying concept of korbanos as explained by Maharal in Nesiv Ha’avodah. The Maharal explains that sacrificing a domesticated animal, in the Torah-model of an agricultural society, was akin to making an offering of life itself, or in the least —as close as one could come to an offering of life itself without actual human sacrifice. The domesticated animal was society’s food-source, both in itself and in the role that it served in enabling them to plant crops. It was the main means of travel and transportation of goods, a source of clothing and other necessities —in short, everything! When one burnt such an animal as an offering to G-d (with burning being the best way to reduce something to as close to nothingness as possible), one made a powerful statement that, in reality, everything in this world is indeed nothingness, for all is Hashem, His will. All the various forms of matter are merely different manifestations of His presence in the world. Nothing at all has independent existence. And so, one is declaring the essential unity of Hashem in bringing a korban. That is essentially the chiddush of the Maharal; that is what we are unable to do in a world without korbanos.
One of the more peculiar aspects of korbanos is that these are often referred to as being ‘lechem’ (lit., ‘bread’). The passuk in Vayikra (3:11) states, “lechem, a fire-offering to Hashem.” Throughout Parshas Emor there are numerous references to the korban as lechem (cf. Vayikra 21:8, 17, 21-22 and 22:7 and 25). In Parshas Pinchas, where the Torah details the obligation of the korban tamid (perpetual twice daily offering), the passuk described it as “Es korbani lachmi l’eeshei (My korban, My bread, placed on a fire for My sake).” What is this all about? Obviously, we do not think for a moment that we are giving Hashem anything that is of value for Him! So what does it actually mean to call it lechem? Moreover, what does the word ‘lechem’ even mean? The korban is obviously not bread! Neither was the mahn, the miraculous food that fell from the Heavens and that was the source of sustenance to Bnei Yisrael during their travels in the dessert. Yet it was referred to by the Torah as lechem numerous times, although it clearly was not bread. Does lechem mean sustenance? What is the root of the word, what is its etymology? Clearly, the word sustenance has no place when talking about the Ribbono shel Olam.
These questions, among others, are asked by the Netziv, in his commentary He’emek Davar, in his explanation of the pesukim that discuss the korban tamid. He then proceeds to explain that the root of the word lechem is a word used to indicate a bond, a binding, a connection. This word does not describe just any connection, but one so tight, so close, so firm to the point that the two parts of the whole are virtually inseparable. One example brought by the Netziv is that the Mishnah uses a form of the root-word lechem when describing two boards pressed together so utterly tightly that they literally cannot be separated. (Indeed, in Modern Hebrew, the root לחמ in verb form means ‘to solder’). The reason lechem means bread, says the Netziv, is that food —primarily bread— joins the body and the soul inseparably, with a firm, tenacious, bond. The reason korbanos are called lechem is that they bond B’nei Yisrael irrevocably and immutably to Hashem. We are the ‘am echad corresponding to ‘Hashem echad,’ as we say on Shabbos at Minchah, “You are One, Your Name is one, and who is like Your Nation, Israel, One Nation in the world.” We are firmly attached to Hashem, with nothing separating us. We declare His Oneness from the highest form in the universe to the lowest and at all levels in between. And we are part of that, acting as his representatives and striving to emulate Him. This all happens through the medium of the korban, where we make that statement as we offer the animal up to Hashem. Thus, a korban is truly—lechem! The korban affords us the opportunity to make that statement in its most pristine, real, way.
Yalkut Shimoni, in Parshas Va’eschanan relates a mashal (parable): “There was once a Talmid Chacham whose son provided him with two meals a day. After a while, the father saw that the son had become impoverished, and was unable to continue providing him with the meals. The father said to his son, ‘My son, I am aware that you are no longer able to provide the meals for me. Listen, instead, to my Torah lectures in the Beis Hamedrash twice a day and study them. That will provide me with as much pleasure as the meals had!”
So too, says the Midrash, Hashem says to Klal Yisrael, “In the past, you had brought me the Tamid offerings twice a day. However, I know that there will come a day when the Beis Hamikdash will be destroyed, and you will no longer be able to bring those korbanos. Thus I say, recite the Kerias Shema —the declaration that Hashem is echad— twice a day, and that will be as sweet to me as the korbanos that you used to, and can no longer, bring.
This Midrash, which would be so difficult to understand, is now understood clearly and poignantly. Once we have absorbed the Maharal’s explanation of the message of the korban, and having understood the usage of the word ‘lechem’ to denote the bond and the closeness that we have with Hashem as we bring the korban and live its message, we can understand the idea that the recitation of Kerias Shema is a substitute for the korban tamid! That the ultimate message of Hashem echad is to be found in korbanos, and especially the korban tamid.
Now, look again at the title of this column, as we anticipate the arrival of Tishah Be’Av. Imagine facing a new world, a world in which we could not wear tefillin any longer, could not recite Kerias Shema , could not have a mezuzah or could not daven. This is magnified a hundred -fold, if not more, as we contemplate from this new perspective a world without that ultimate expression of closeness and bitul and bonding—the korban!