Torah Portion: Sacrificing the Animal Within

Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and a regular contributor to GTJ.

Parashas Vayikra is understandably one of the most challenging for many of us as it mostly deals with animal sacrifices. Indeed, the animal sacrifices can only be practiced when we have the Temple in Jerusalem, something we haven’t had for almost 2,000 years. Not only that, but the sacrificial laws were not even a part of the everyday life of the average Jew when they were practiced (Most Jews only visited the Temple three times a year).[1] All of this leads one to wonder what how we can relate this parasha to our lives in a practical way.

Chassidic thought teaches that a deeper look at the sacrifices teaches us about the inner meaning behind all of the mitzvot.[2] Although the sacrifices in the Temple involved physical animals, each sacrifice was meant to teach us about something spiritual that relates to the inward acts of sacrifice in the life of every Jew.[3] Sacrificing animals in the Sanctuary represents the way in which a Jewish person sacrifices their own animal-nature. Previously G-d told the Jewish people to build a Sanctuary so that He could dwell within the people. This means that G-d desires to dwell within every single Jew. To achieve this, a Jew must make his/her own body a Sanctuary that is able to receive the Divine Presence.

Every character flaw or negative trait we possess is like a little animal inside of us that inhibits our ability to connect with G-d. The sacrifice of physical animals in the Sanctuary was meant to illustrate this message in a vivid way. When we sacrifice the animal within us our physical bodies remain intact because Judaism doesn’t believe in destroying the body in order to connect to the spiritual. Rather, we are to redirect the energy of our bodies toward holiness. True, we are all born animals, but within us resides a soul that is part of G-d, which gives us the ability to transcend our animal limitations in pursuit of higher goals.

The purpose of physicality is such that it is meant to be utilized for spiritual purposes. The animal sacrifices demonstrate that all of the laws of the Torah are meant to show us how to perform every physical act for the sake of holiness. For example we eat and drink on Shabbat as a means to sanctify the day, and we use physical wool to make Tzitzis (ritual fringes) and physical leather for Tefillin.[4] In this way all of these things become both elevated toward G-dliness as well as vessels with the power to draw down G-dliness into this physical world. G-d’s desire to dwell within our physical world is indeed the entire purpose of creation. Currently we are unable to perform the sacrificial offerings of the Temple. However, we can still achieve the purpose of Creation on an individual level through working on ourselves and redirecting our physical, animalistic drives towards fulfillment of the mitzvot.


[1] http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/497505/jewish/The-Ultimate-Mitzvah.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Torah Studies. Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan (adapted discourses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe), 154

[4] Ibid., 157