Korban. No word in Western language adequately conveys the concept inherent in the Hebrew word. The common translation is “offering,” in the sense of “sacrifice,” with a connotation of destruction and loss—a connotation that is foreign, and antithetical to the Hebrew concept of a korban.
Even the meaning in the sense of “offering” without “sacrifice”, does not correspond to Korban in its full sense.The idea of an offering implies a prior request on the part of the recipient; the purpose of the offering is to satisfy his needs. There is no distinction between an offering and a gift.
The concept of a korban, however, is far removed from this. It is never to be understood as a gift. The word is found solely in the context of man’s relationship with Hashem, and can only be understood on the basis of the meaning of the root word, karav. The meaning of karav, in its literal sense, is to draw close. The purpose and the result of hakrava is positive, the forming of a relationship with someone. The opposite—destruction and loss—should not be ascribed to it.
From this definition, it follows that a korban serves to meet the needs of the makriv, not the One to Whom the korban is brought. The will of the makriv is that something of his should come to a closer relationship with Hashem. This is the very essence of a korban: it is designed to bring about hakrava.Kirvas Elokim, seeking Hashem’s nearness, is, for a Jew, the sole good (Tehillim 73:28).
In the Sanctuary, man understands that closeness to Hashem is the sole criterion for shaping his outlook on life and evaluating his happiness: Ad avo el mikdashei Kel, avina l’acharisam (ibid. 73:17). There, he sees clearly that his spiritual and material happiness flourishes only through closeness to Hashem and His Law, his ultimate calling. There, he learns that the only way to attain kirvas Elokim is through total dedication to the illuminating, life-giving fire of the Torah. There, life’s riddles are solved. There, one’s happiness is determined by the measure of his closeness to Hashem. There, body and spirit yearn for Hashem and to know Him (73:26). There, distance from Hashem brings ruin (73:27). There, good is found only in closeness to Hashem; kirvas Elokim li tov. Hence, “happiness” loses its appeal if found far from Hashem; near Him, suffering is sweetened and even transformed into good.
The essence of an offering is not killing, but rebirth and renewal of existence. Spiritual and moral awakening, entering into a life more noble and pure, renewing strength for life from the never-failing source of Hashem’s love—that is the Jewish concept of an offering.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,
Director, Ani Maamin Foundation
Please note: The “Gem of the Week,” is based on excerpts from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l’s commentary on Chumash, with permission from the publisher.