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Contextualizing Korbanot in Sefer Vayikra

Appreciating the Rambam’s division of Seder Kodshim.

The 14 Sefarim of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah

Of all the innovative and original perspectives that the Rambam introduced through the writing of Mishneh Torah, the one I personally appreciate most is that he redivided and recharacterized the world of Halacha for us. Before the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, the world of Halacha was divided and categorized by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi into six categories— Zeraim, Moed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kodshim and Taharos. This illuminating division was accepted by Torah giants for centuries until the Rambam came along. The Rambam was a halachic visionary and saw such meaning and depth in Halacha that he could not live with only six categories. He created 14 categories, which make up the 14 books of Mishneh Torah and give us its other name: Yad Hachazakah—yad, having the gematria of 14, represents the number of sefarim in Mishneh Torah.

By taking six categories and redividing them into 14, the Rambam gave us deep messages about the nature of the mitzvot that the categories contain and insights into how he saw the beauty and focus in various areas of Halacha. (Sefer Maddah, a book dedicated to the way a Jew thinks and Sefer Ahava, a book dedicated to emotionally connective mitzvot, are two beautiful examples of the way the Rambam used categories to give us insights into the mitzvot).

Sefer Avodah Sefer Korbanot
1. Beit HaBechirah: laws of God’s chosen house

2. K’lei HaMikdash: laws of the temple utensils and those who serve within

3. Bi’at HaMikdash: laws of entry to the sanctuary

4. Issurei HaMizbe’ach: laws of entities prohibited to be offered on the altar

5. Ma’aseh HaKorbanot: laws of the sacrificial procedures

6. Temidim uMusafim: laws of continual and additional offerings

7. Pesulei HaMukdashim: laws of consecrated entities that have been disqualified

8. Avodat Yom HaKippurim: laws of the Yom Kippur service

9. Me’ilah: laws of the misappropriation of consecrated property

1. Korban Pesach: the Passover offering

2. Chagigah: the festival offering

3. Bechorot: laws regarding first-born children

4. Shegagot: Offerings for Unintentional Transgressions

5. Mechussarey Kapparah: Offerings for Those with Incomplete Atonement

6. Temurah: Substitution

 

The Rambam Divides Kodshim Into Two Books

Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi placed all the halachot of korbanot into one category, Kodshim. The Rambam, however, divided Kodshim into two of the 14 seforim of Yad Hachazakah—Sefer Avodah and Sefer Korbanot. For years I could not understand why the Rambam felt a need for two sefarim. Furthermore, I could not figure out any rhyme or reason to explain what he decided to put in each sefer. This made finding any individual Halacha or set of halachot particularly frustrating. For example, if the Ein Mishpat told me that the Rambam’s psak is in Hilchot Temidim Umusafim, I, of course, would safely assume that, since the tamid is a korban, the musaf is a korban … I could find this section of halacha in Sefer Korbanot! But alas, temidim umusafim is in Sefer Avodah. Similarly, if I had to look up something in Hilchot Bigdei Kehuna. I would assume that since kohanim need begadim to bring korbanot, it must be in Sefer Korbanot, but that too is in Sefer Avodah. Conversely, korban Pesach sounds to me like an important avodah done in the Beit Hamikdash. There is even a chiyuv karet, obligation to be killed, for not doing it. That must be in Avodah – but alas it is in Korbanot. So why did the Rambam divide Seder Kodshim into two categories and how did he decide which halachot to put in Sefer Avodah and which to put in Sefer Korbanot?

Here are the categories in each sefer:

The Rhyme and Reason of the Rambam’s Division

Sefer Avodah

Upon analysis it seems that the Rambam distinguished between two types of korbanot. In Sefer Avodah he only included korbanot that are part of the mandatory rituals of the Beit Hamikdash, either daily (tamid), weekly (Shabbas musaf), or periodical (Yom Tov musafim, avodat Yom Hakippurim). These korbanot are not just korbanot, they are part of the ritual and obligation that Klal Yisrael must do to serve Hashem.1 This service is the primary reason for the Beit Hamikdash. When we think of the relationship between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem, we think of the fact that we connect to Hashem each day through the avodah of the Kohanim in the Mikdash, and this avodah serves as the ritual that is the bedrock of our relationship. Nowadays, without the Beit Hamikdash, our tefillot take the place of this avodah, avodah shebelev. But in a more ideal world, the most powerful and beautiful expression of our avodat Hashem would be through the korbanot mentioned in Sefer Avodah. The words of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot resonate in this context: “Al shelosha d’varim haolam omeid; al haTorah, al ha’avodah, v’al gemilut chasadim, The entire world stands on these three pillars: on Torah, on prayer and on good deeds.”

Since the category of avodah represents the primary purpose of the Beit Hamikdash, it not only contains the korbanot that make up the avodah of the yearly cycle, it also contains the laws of the building of the Beit Hamikdash and of the bigdei kehuna, as these are the prerequisites that are necessary for a functioning Beit Hamikdash and that allow us to do the avodah. It also contains all the rituals that are not korbanot such as the laws of ketoret, hadlakat menorah, incense and lighting the candles, etc.

So, indeed, Sefer Avodah contains many korbanot. But all the korbanot in Sefer Avodah are korbanot that are brought as part of a much larger vision, that of avodah, of the service of Hashem that is the whole purpose of the Beit Hamikdash.

 

Sefer Korbanot

Sefer Korbanot is named appropriately in a minimalistic sense of the word. It is a sefer that describes korbanot that are “only” korbanot. These korbanot are NOT part of the basic fabric of avodah of Klal Yisrael. They are simply korbanot that one is obligated to bring but which do not connect to the essential avodah in the Mikdash. In fact, many, if not most, of the korbanot described in this sefer are responses to situations that may arise in a person’s life and are not part of any necessary ritual at all. Examples of these are the korbanot of a metzora (leper), yoledes (woman who has just given birth), zav (an impure male), nazir (ascetic), choteh (sinner) etc. These korbanot are necessary, but the Rambam aptly places these in a sefer called Korbanot and not in Sefer Avodah to point out that they are simply korbanot that must be brought, but are not part of the basic fabric and purpose of the Beit Hamikdash. Sefer Korbanot also includes korbanot that must be brought each year, such as chagigot and olat re’iyah, but these obligations are still essentially an individual’s personal obligation of simchat Yom Tov and aliyah l’regel (ascending on foot) and not part of the avodah that constitutes the essential relationship of Hashem and Bnei Yisrael.

If there is one korban that would perhaps be closest to a crossover in Sefer Korbanot, it would of course be the korban Pesach. This could be mistaken for an avodah-like korban, as it may seem to be very much like a musaf for the chag of Pesach. One that must be brought each year periodically. But the Rambam’s inclusion of korban Pesach in Sefer Korbanot tells us that despite its korban tzibbur avodah-like halachot (korban Pesach is docheh tumah like other korbanot tzibbur), it is essentially a personal obligation that is just a chiyuv korban and not part of the essential relationship avodah of the Beit Hamikdash.

This analysis explains why Sefer Avodah precedes Sefer Korbanot in the Rambam’s order of sefarim. Sefer Avodah lays the groundwork for the entire purpose of the Beit Hamikdash. It includes hilchot beit habechirah (God’s chosen house), klei hamikdash (utensils of the Mikdash) and bigdei kehuna (priestly clothing). For although all those are necessary for korbanot, they are more importantly, part of the larger purpose of the entire enterprise of the Beit Hamikdash, which was to serve as space for the avodah of Klal Yisrael as they try to draw closer to Hashem.

The Rambam’s brilliant division of Seder Kodshim into two sefarim, actually gives us a way of appreciating and understanding the place of the various korbanot that are brought and gives us a larger spiritual context to cherish the avodah and purpose of the Beit Hamikdash.


Rabbi Scheinfeld is a mechanech as well as the founder and director of Camp Kanfei Nesharim, a summer travel and ski camp that travels to New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and Alaska. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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