Sacrifices, Yesterday in the Temple and Today as Charity

    August 2009            
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Sacrifices in the Temple and giving Charity

By Avi Lazerson

In the time of the holy Temple in Jerusalem sacrifices were brought to the altar. These sacrifices were generally animals or birds. Some came as part of a process to gain atonement for forgiveness for sins others came as thanksgivings for G-d's grace. Today, of course, the sacrifices are no longer part of the contemporary Jewish life – or are they?

Let us understand a bit about sacrifices and the connection to G-d which they provided in the prospective of life as it is and as life should be.

Man was created to serve G-d; G-d is his life, and through His divine kindness gives man his sustenance, his strength and his successes. Since G-d is the sole source of all goodness in the world in general, and in each individuals life in particular, it would seem logical that a man should show love towards G-d as he would towards a flesh and blood generous benefactor. As an example, if you had an uncle who was extremely wealthy and wise and yet took time to help you with your every day problems, personal, emotional and financial, it is a good bet that you would not only be highly obliged to him but you would be concerned for his well being and seek to maintain good relations. Yet, G-d is better than a wealthy and wise uncle, the uncle can only help you when you come to him and explain him your problem, G-d is always with you.

It would seem logically that man would be beholden to G-d for every good that happens. It should be that way, but in reality we see something different happening in our world. We see that man is not very obedient to G-d, even sinful at times. How does this come about?

Man at an early age realizes that he is dependent on earthly needs and soon develops pleasures from them. Man can not live with out food and drink; he needs shelter and clothing. Since these earthly needs and necessities are in man's mind from his youth they take up a great part of his mind. Added to this the unfortunate 'addiction' and desires for the pleasures of earthly delights and man can spend most of his life chasing after materialism, which blinds him to the spiritual source of all matter.

With that in mind, it is easy to fathom that the material aspect of life totally and tightly envelopes man and in doing so, causes him to think that the 'material goodness' is more necessary and worth more than the spiritual part of life. In his unceasing pursuit of his physical needs and pleasures, man quickly forgets and often forsakes his Creator, substituting the material aspect of life to fill up his life and ignoring the divine.

Therefore it is only logical that when a man sins, and then he realizes that he has sinned and thereby becomes remorseful for his sin, it would only be logical that he would sacrifice that which he hold dear to his being and that which brought him to sin – his material wealth – and dedicate it to G-d as an offering. As if man were saying, "This is what caused me to sin and I am going to give it to You. True, I can not live with out it, but I have over-done it, thinking that the material is the source of my joy. Here, my G-d, You take it from me as a sin offering."

In the time of the Temple, a man's wealth was his herds of animals, his sheep and cows; therefore he would bring to G-d as an offering a sacrifice of his wealth, i.e. an animal. G-d understood and fixed the various sacrifices as part of the service in the Temple and through man's sacrifices he attained atonement.

But times have changed and things have changed. Today there is no Temple; there are no animal sacrifices that we can bring to atone for our sins. Instead, when we sin, G-d has given us another venue for absolving ourselves from sin – this is charity (tzedakah).

The word tzedakah is used in Hebrew for two concepts: one is charity but the other is righteousness. By giving money to the unfortunate and to the needy, you take from your physical possessions and willfully diminish your wealth; for it was the wealth and desire for it and its pleasures which derived from it that caused you to sin. When you take from that which has taken you away from G-d, you are telling G-d, "look, I was guilty of sinning due to my desire for the physical, here I am giving to you from what I so coveted. See, I do not covet it so much."

By giving charity to the needy and unfortunate you are helping G-d in His work. It is He who is supposed to help the poor. Now you are a partner with G-d in His work. You are accomplishing with your tzedakah money more than what a sacrifice on the altar accomplished, you become a partner with G-d.


from the August 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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