Another excellent article from by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students, Diaspora Yeshiva
Please don’t make the mistake that I almost did. Read the entire article. I started to read it and thought this doesn’t pertain to me. When I finished I thought this is one of the most valuable lessons that I have learned in a long time. Please read:
The main function of the Mishkan (the portable Tabernacle we used in the desert) was to offer up animal sacrifices to Hashem. For many people, it is easier to relate to the narrative portions of the Torah and Mitzvot (the commandments) that apply in our day than to those dealing with the Temple sacrifices. The last sacrifices were offered in 68CE, before the Second Temple was destroyed. So why study today those portions of the Torah that deal with sacrifices when we haven't had a Temple in almost 2000 years? The ENTIRE Torah is Hashem's GPS for ALL times.
The Mishkan Altar may be more understandable if we think of it as a metaphor for our table at which we eat every day, containing lessons about the attitude which we should have when we satisfy our vital natural function of eating. The daily diet of animal, wheat, oil, and wine offerings on the Temple Altar corresponds to our daily diet, of animal and grain products, fruits, and vegetables, that go on to our table and into our mouths.
Perhaps, the reason why some people feel uncomfortable about the sacrificial ritual is precisely because it presents our existential situation so starkly in the form of animal blood, fat, and other offerings on the Altar. According to Kabbalah it is a fundamental law of creation that higher life forms consume lower forms of life in order to exist. When a lower form of life is eaten and digested by a higher form, the lower life form is elevated in the sense of actually turning into the body and feeding the activities of the higher life form.
As human beings, our blood and fat are made up of materials derived from other, lower levels of existence, mineral, vegetable, and animal. Our physical life-functions come to 'feed and serve our higher life form which is the G-dly soul.
The Mishkan Altar and sacrificial system teach us to elevate our own blood, fat, and energy to fuel the fire of the Service of Hashem on the Altar of our own bodies. The altar fire is a metaphor for the human soul, which can only survive in the body through a daily diet of offerings, which are the various foods that keep body and soul together. Our bodies burn up the various nutrients we take in, just as the Altar consumes the sacrifices.
Our body requires tending in order to serve as an Altar for the service of Hashem, just as the Temple Altar had to be tended. The opening Mitzvah of the day in the Temple was the removal of the ashes of the consumed sacrifices. This may be compared to what is the first physical functioning in a person's day - elimination of waste to cleanse the body for the service of Hashem. Keeping the Altar fire burning was the daily task of the Kohanim (the Priests).
So too, each one of us has the task of keeping the Altar of the body, which is the digestive system, and the liver, properly working with the right nutrients in the right amounts. As Kohanim of our own bodies, our aim must be to keep the fire of the soul burning brightly daily, "As a fire offering, a sweet smell for Hashem."
The fact that the Kohen must eat from a sin offering and thereby accomplish atonement for the sinner is a wonder. So too, is the eating of the Korban Sh'lamim (the peace offerings) to make peace between man and Hashem. What distinguishes holy eating from eating solely for the sake of pure self-gratification is the motive of the person who is eating - his intention. Having the correct intention is a recurrent theme in all sacrifices. The Kohen has to have the correct and proper intention of serving Hashem at every stage in the sacrificial ritual. So too when we eat, everything depends upon our intention. Our Goal should be that our food should give us the energy to serve Hashem.
Through the Korbanot (sacrifices), the Torah is teaching us to eat with the intention of lighting our Altar of Hashem with nutrients that we can elevate to His service by using this energy to perform our Mitzvot. The blessings we make before and after eating help us to focus upon this intention.
Eating may serve as a means of celebrating, as in the case of the Thanksgiving offering. May we be worthy of offering the Thanksgiving Korban in the rebuilt 3rd Beit HaMikdash (Temple) soon in our day – Amen.
I have often mentioned how important it is that when you study Torah you should learn all topics that pertain to you as an individual. I know that everything in the Torah has hidden messages, but after reading this article I realized how much about Torah I don’t know. I am seeing this for the first time even though I knew parts of this subject, I have never seen it described this way. It is so fascinating that it encourages me to look even deeper into the subject that I thought didn’t pertain to me. Until we really know the secrets of every aspect of the Handbook of Life, which would be after about 100 lifetimes of Torah study, we should never think “I don’t need to study this.”
I have one additional comment. We are always looking for things in our lives to improve. That is the Teshuvah that I speak of often. Considering that our bodies are an Alter, and even the fact that our bodies are a gift from Hashem to be able to do His commandments, it gives us a new perspective about the junk food we eat. To put it bluntly, we desecrate ourselves with all the fast food, excessive sugar, salt, and fat, etc, that we call eating. It definitely means that eating properly is doing Teshuvah. Even proper exercise and sleep are ways to thank Hashem for our Alters. If we didn’t think this pertained to us, look again – I did.
Thank you Rabbi Sprecher; your article was a very important lesson for me, a very big discovery for me and a lesson that I am very happy to share with my readers.