Our Inner Animal by Alex Russell


This week’s Parashah imforms us that if one sins, or simply wants to bring a Korban, he must bring one of a number of specified animals. Rightfully so, one may ask why the sacrifice of an innocent animal is not only permitted, but is in fact an integral part of the service in the Beit Hamikdash. How can God, the All Merciful One, seem to exact a certain cruelty on these animals, just for human use? This question is especially compelling for the Korban Olah which is not even eaten - it is totally burnt. If the majority of Korbanot are either the result of someone wanting to atone for a sin or thank God for something, then wouldn’t it make more sense—at least theoretically for him to sacrifice himself?

Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi answers beautifully that, in fact, when a person brings a Korban to Hashem, he is, in a sense, sacrificing himself. He explains that the Torah makes this point in the Pasuk that introduces the laws of the Korbanot: “Adam, Ki Yakriv Mikem Korban LaShem, Min HaBeheimah, Min HaBakar, UMin Hatzon, Takrivu Et Korbanchem,” A man who shall bring near of you an offering to Hashem, either from the beast, from the cattle, and from the sheep, you shall bring close your offering”(VaYikra 1:2).

 As Rav Schneur Zalman points out, the Pasuk does not read, “A man shall bring near an offering,” but “A man who shall bring near of you an offering”—the offering brought is “of you.” The sacrificed animal is a projection, depicting a process transpiring within oneself. The Mishnah in Sanhedrin describes man as a type of microcosm. The human psyche includes a “human soul” and an “animal soul.” The human soul—also called the “Godly soul”—embodies all that is spiritual and transcendent in man. It gravitates towards its source in God, driven by an all-consuming love for Him and the desire to lose itself within His all-pervading essence. Its method of expression is the Mitzvot of the Torah—the means by which man achieves closeness and attachment to his Creator. By contrast, the “animal soul” is the self that man shares with all living creatures - a self driven and fulfilled by its physical needs and desires. Its method of expression is the endeavors of material life.

A man can bring a dozen animals to try to please God but without an understanding of their true meaning they will all be wasted. He must believe that the animals are truly being sacrificed in his stead. But what is to be done with this ‘animal inside?’ Why does it exist in the first place? Should it just be suppressed unconditionally? “Much grain is produced with the might of the ox,” remarked Shlomo HaMelech (Mishlei 14:4). Rav Schneur Zalman equates this Pasuk to our inner ‘animal soul.’ An ox left to its own devices will inevitably run amok and destroy; but when subjugated by a responsible human and harnessed to its plow, the ox’s strength translates into “much grain”— a crop that surpasses what any human’s energy alone would produce.

The same is true of the beast in man. When left unchecked, this aspect of our souls easily turns wild and out of control. It is up to each person to not only stop his inner animal from running rampant, but to tap its power and utilize all of the energy it gives off.

The Korban Olah, the first Korban mentioned in the Parashah, is special in a number of ways. Most drastically, the Olah is entirely consumed by the fire. The metaphorical resonance of this act yells out to the reader. Burning something fully releases all of its energy. An Olah, which is typically seen as the most spiritual Korban, uses every drop of animal spirit to grow closer to God.

The Torah then discusses other Korbanot. Unlike the Olah, only certain parts of the Chatat and Shelamim “ascend” by fire. Certain fats were not allowed to be eaten, but most of the meat was eaten either by the Kohein or the man who brought the sacrifice.

We can apply these messages even today in our lives. Some of our religious service is wholly spiritual and directed just at God. Every day we Daven and try to focus all of our physical ability in that pursuit. Other times we straddle the line between physical and spiritual to encompass the entirety of our Avodat Hashem.

Based on an article from Chabad.org.

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