Vayikra: The Inner Light of Destruction
Flooding, wars, earthquakes – every day we are bombarded with news of catastrophe and disaster. Is this how God envisioned His world? How can we relate to the many destructive forces in the world?
The offering of a korban in the Temple culminated in the ritual of zerikat ha-dam, as the kohen sprinkled the animal’s blood – its life-force – around the altar.
“He will slaughter [the offering] near the altar’s base, on the north side before God. The kohanim, descendants of Aaron, will then dash its blood all around the altar.” (Lev. 1:11)
What is the significance of the offering being slaughtered on the northern side of the Temple compound?
Why does the verse note that the kohanim are ‘descendants of Aaron’ – is that not well-known?
And why does it say the blood was dashed all around the altar, when in fact it was just sprinkled twice, on the two opposite (diagonal) corners of the altar?
Concealed Before God
Slaughter is an act of punishment and judgment. When performed on an offering, it serves to connect all of the terrible judgments, calamitous havoc and destruction in the world, to the hidden Divine rule of the universe. Everything emanates from the secret ways of the merciful God. All is ultimately for good, for blessing, and for kindness.
From our limited perspective, the slaughter has a lowly standing. It is thus performed near the base of the altar. But a hidden light of kindness is concealed in this act. The offering was slaughtered “tzafonah lifnei Hashem.” Literally, this means “on the northern side, before God.” But it may also be translated as “concealed – before God alone.”
The task of revealing the inner light in the forces of destruction was given to the kohanim, the descendants of Aaron. Why the emphasis on Aaronic lineage? Aaron was renowned for his compassion and kindness. “Be a disciple of Aaron: Love peace and pursue peace; love people, and draw them to Torah” (Avot I:12). Aaron’s descendants inherited the special qualities necessary to uncover this hidden light.
The Temple service teaches us that destruction of life has a place even in the holiest service. It is precisely in terms of the highest level – the most all-encompassing perspective of reality – that phenomena which appear inexplicable and destructive from our limited outlook, may be seen as contributing to the world. Our physical perception can discern only a sliver of reality; it is severely limited in terms of time, space, and true understanding of events. We lack knowledge of the overall context, and are unable to see the entire picture.
The method of dashing the blood is a fitting metaphor for our superficial perception. The physical eye can only see a partial reality, broken and disconnected. It sees the kohen dashing blood on two opposite corners. But on a higher level, the vision is continuous and complete. The sprinkling encompasses the entire altar.
Thus, the compassionate children of Aaron, as they performed this inner sprinkling all around the altar, provided a glimpse of the hidden source of good and kindness in the universe.
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 134)