June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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The Deeper Meaning of Tefilat Musaf

As Parshat Pinchas discusses the special sacrifices offered in the Temple on the holidays, this week provides us with an opportunity to discuss their biblical meaning.

The daily korban tzibur (communal sacrifice) was simply one lamb in the morning and one lamb in the evening (Bamidbar 28:3-4), while two additional lambs were added on Shabbat (28:9-10). On Rosh Chodesh and on all the holidays, the “additional offering” (musaf) is much more complicated, as it is comprised of both a burnt offering (olah) of numerous bulls, rams, and lambs as well as a sin offering (chatat), which is always a single goat (se’ir izim l’chatat).

Even though the specific number of bulls, rams and lambs may slightly change from holiday to holiday, their basic format remains the same:

Multiple bulls (usually 1 or 2, but over Sukkot 70!)

One ram (doubled on Sukkot to two)

Seven lambs (doubled on Sukkot to fourteen)

One goat (for the sin offering)

Assuming that “korbanot” serve as a ritual act that can help remind us of our connection to and relationship with God, one could suggest the following reasons for the Torah’s choice of these specific animals: Let’s begin with the most obvious example, i.e., the reason for the offering of a s’eir izim for the communal chatat. In Sefer Bereishit when the brothers conspire to kill Yosef, in order to cover up their sinful deeds, “they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a se’ir izim (male goat) and dipped the coat in the blood” (Bereishit 37:31). As the nation gathers at the Temple on the holidays, we must remember that story’s message, to constantly be aware of the danger of sinat chinam, of baseless hatred, as well as the important process of teshuvah (repentance).

Another obvious example is the ram offering for the olah that, earlier in Sefer Bereishit, reminds us of Avraham’s success in the test of the Akeida: “Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and saw that behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son” (22:13).

Thus, offering an ayil echad—a single ram—for a burnt offering can remind us of the importance of our total dedication to keep His commandments.

To understand the seven lambs, we read in the previous chapter that Avimelech, king of the Plishtim, recognizes Avraham Avinu’s righteousness and desires to upgrade their relationship. Symbolizing their agreement, Avraham sets aside seven lambs in Beer Sheva, which then becomes his center for “calling out in the Name of God” (see 21:22-33). Hence, our communal offering of seven lambs can remind us of the underlying purpose of our being chosen, i.e., to serve as a light to other nations.

Finally, the offering of parim (bulls)—especially the sprinkling of their blood—is most symbolic, for it can remind us of our national commitment to become God’s people at Mt. Sinai. Recall from Sefer Shemot:

“Moses wrote all the words of Hashem… and built an altar under the mountain… He sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of parim (bulls) to Hashem… He took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people, and they said, ‘All that Hashem has spoken will we do, and be obedient.’ Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Look, this is the blood of the covenant…’” (see Shemot 24:4-8)

As Hoshea 14:3 reminds us, prayer can replace sacrifice. As such, our quotations from Parshat Pinchas, in our Musaf prayers, should remind us of their symbolism and thus enhance our commitment to serve God in the proper manner.

Rabbi Menachem Leibtag is an internationally acclaimed Tanach scholar and online Jewish education pioneer. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau  ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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