This week we begin a new Sefer, Vayikra, known as the Torat Kohanim. The first section deals primarily with the laws of the various korbanot. The Rambam in his introduction to Mishna Kodshim bemoans the general lack of knowledge in this area. He makes a simple observation that despite the fact that much of what is involved is clearly written in the Torah most people, even the greatest of scholars, have no clear picture of what to do. This sad state of affairs is due to the lack of practical implementation of the laws on an every day basis. Given our firm belief that the rebuilding of the Mikdash is to be happening immediately I think we should concentrate especially hard in the coming weeks so that we learn at least the basics.
This week I would like to tell you of a modern day attempt to restart the Korbanot, by Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher.
Rav Kalisher (1795-1874) was one of the leaders of the Religious Zionist movement in Europe at the time. In 1836 he sent a very long and detailed letter to Asher Anshel Rothschild encouraging him to purchase Har Habayit and/or gain the rights to bring korbanot there. In his letter he brings up three possible reasons to derail his own plan:
1.We may need to build then entire Mikdash before being able to bring the Korbanot, which seemed to be out of the budget of even the Rothschild family.
2. We are all impure today. Given the lack of the Parah Adumah we have no method of being able to solve that problem and therefore the entire exercise is futile.
3. We have no clear knowledge of who are genuine Kohanim, that are needed to work in the Mikdash.
Rav Kalisher goes on to refute all three problems.
The first issue, concerning the lack of the complete Mikdash is not a problem. Based on the ruling of the Rambam (Bet Habechira 6:15) we can bring Korbanot without the Mikdash. All we need is a mizbeach, which is, relatively, a small endeavor. (When they built the Second Bet Hamikdash all they had was a mizbeach for a few years until they reconstructed the rest of the building, see Ezra 3:6)
The second issue of Tumah is as well not a fatal problem given the halacha of “tumah hutra bzibur” “Tumah is allowed for the entire congregation”. The rules of this law state that if a majority of the people or the Kohanim or the utensils used in the Mikdash are impure, certain korbanot can be brought nonetheless. In general only the public korbanot can be brought while personal sacrifices cannot be brought. The exception to the rule is Korban Pesach which despite the fact that it is offered by individuals has the status of a communal korban and may be brought even Betumah.
The third and final issue is the stickiest one. Rav Kalisher goes to great length to prove that we do not need “Pedigreed Kohanim” and we may suffice with “assumed Kohanim” i.e. Kohanim that we assume to be Kohanim by virtue of the fact that their family have always conducted themselves as such.
About a month later Rav Kalisher wrote a parallel letter to Rabbi Akiva Eiger, trying to gain acceptance on the Halachik basis of his ideas. The two traded letters on the subject for a while until R. Eiger felt two weak to continue his work and passed the issue on to his son-in-law R. Moshe Sofer (The Chatam Sofer). In the end R. Moshe Sofer was in agreement to the basic ideas of Rav Kalisher concerning the Kohanim, the garments of the Kohanim, the placement of the mizbeach and various other issues.
R. Moshe Sofer (see Teshuvot Chatam Sofer Yoreh Deah 236), however felt that the only Korban that could be offered was the Korban Pesach as it is deemed a “pulic korban” (allowing it to be brought despite the status of impurity) and yet does not require the communal fund gathering (the half shekels) that the other communal korbanot require.
On the financial front things were not going well. Mr Rothschild did not respond to the plea, so Rav Kalisher turned to Sir Moshe Montifere. Despite this philanthropist’s great contribution to the efforts in Eretz Yisrael, Korbanot, it seems were not high enough on the agenda.
The political implications of restarting the Avodah were very real to all of the above-mentioned Gedolim and philanthropists alike. The halachik issues and even the financial ones were only technical problems that, in the end of the day, could be solved. I would venture to imagine that the situation has become all the more fragile in the last 170 years. What was suggested as a possible real estate purchase then seems to be an explosive religious/cultural issue today.
If we are unable to bring the korbanot today due to political constraints let us recognize that it is only that, that stands between us and the bringing of the Korbanot. Let us not feel that “bezman hazeh” means, “When there is no mikdash” and we are prohibited by halachik constraints as well. Whatever obstacles may stand in our way, we have the ability to solve the issues and we must ask ourselves are we ready for that.
When we say the bracha of “Retzei” three times a day in the Amida and implore Hakadosh Baruch Hu that “Our eyes should witness His return to Tzion” do we really mean it?
I have started to notice the plethora of handbooks on sale dealing with Erev Pesach that falls out on Erev Shabbat. These books are meant to give us guidance in the semi rare occurrence that will happen this coming year. I have not yet found reference in any of them to the Halchot of the Korban Pesach in such circumstances. Will we be ready and well versed or will we be in utter confusion without a clue what to do?
As we begin Sefer Vayikra let’s pay attention this time in a different manner than in the past. Let us hang on each and every word and strive to understand each and every nuance because we will need the information TODAY.