5761 - #37

Sacrifices and Nationhood

Bamidbar c. 28 and c. 29 describe the daily communal sacrificial worship in the Mishkan and then the Temple. Each day there were two daily sacrifices, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In addition each special day of the year - Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon) and the various Festivals - were to be marked by distinctive sacrifices. The Torah is detailed in its descriptions of the sacrifices and this only adds to the problem. As Torah Temima, Bamidbar 28:2, note 1 points out, it would seem that this description of sacrifices would be more suited for the book of Vayikra. The Book of Bamidbar is not a text that describes the sacrificial worship. Furthermore, this description of the daily sacrificial worship does not seem to flow from the discussion in the text. The Torah is discussing historical events: the recount of the Jewish people,1 the case of the daughters of Tzlaphchad,2 the appointment of Yehoshua.3 Why then does the Torah enter into a discussion of daily sacrifices, a topic totally removed from the one at hand?
Sifri, Pinchus 24 states that God, in commanding the daily sacrifices at this time, was responding to Moshe's request for a leader to assume Moshe's place
.4 In the same way God is to remember and take care of the Jewish People by appointing an appropriate leader, God requests that the Jewish People remember and take care of Him by not relating to Him in a contemptuous manner through the worship of other gods. The daily sacrifices are intended to accomplish this goal. Malbim5 explains that the daily sacrifices were intended to challenge the worship of the sun. Idolaters would worship the sun twice daily, in the morning and the afternoon. The daily sacrifices decreed by the Torah at the same time attacked this worship for it contradicted the method of the sun worshippers. The worship of the sun demanded the morning sacrifice in the east and the afternoon sacrifice in the west, paralleling the path of the sun through the sky. The practice of the Torah daily sacrifices was precisely the opposite: the morning sacrifice was in the north-west corner, the afternoon sacrifice was in the north-east corner. As such, the description of the daily sacrifices, with its inherent challenge of idolatry, follows the induction of Yehoshua as leader for it was God's request from the people in response to this appointment.
These thoughts still demand further clarity. Why would the mitzvot of the daily sacrifices be the specific response to the appointment of Yeshoshua? The connection seems to be rather vague, an exchange of favours without a connection between the requested actions. The implication of the Sifri, though, is that there is some relationship between the two requests. The establishment of the laws of the daily sacrifices seem to flow specifically from the appointment of a leader. It is this connection that must be illuminated.
The historical events that are described in Parshat Pinchus relate to nationhood. The nation is counted. The daughters of Tzlaphchad are not just requesting a section of property in the land but are ensuring their family's place in the nation. It is a nation that demands a leader. Interestingly, the daily sacrifices are also tied to nationhood; they are the sacrifices of the nation. This concept is reinforced in the fact that the daily sacrifices were paid for from the communal collection of half-shekels.
6 This collection was inherently equal in nature - the rich could not give more, the poor could not give less - and thus expressed the community as a unique whole beyond the sum of its parts.7 It is these sacrifices - unique in their communal nature - which are deemed to be God's request in return for the appointment of a leader.8
With this consideration, the description of the daily sacrifices at this point in the text takes on new meaning. The nation is developing, assuming the inherent national being necessary as it is about to enter and conquer its land. The strength of its national spirit is at its height. It is precisely at this point that the essence and importance of God - inherently and in connection to the nation - must be reiterated and further established. With the rise in national spirit the possibility of ignoring the spirit of the Divine emerges. Nationalism with its inherent energy becomes precedent. It is precisely at this moment that the nation must reiterate its commitment to God above all else. It is precisely at the moment of the appointment of its new leader, who will guide them as a nation in the conquest of their land, that the essential purpose and ultimate being of this nation must be declared anew. The Jewish nation is a nation devoted to the One God. Its national spirit must maintain this focus. This is the essence of the daily sacrifices. As a nation, united as one, we declare through the daily sacrifices our commitment to the Divine.
In this light, our daily prayers, which took the place of sacrifices in response to the reality of a Diaspora Judaism
,9 takes on new meaning. While there is a personal side to prayer,10 our daily prayers must also be perceived in a national and communal context. Just as the sacrifices represented a nation united in the service of God, so must our prayers reflect a nation united in the service of God. Therein lies the significance of tephilla b'tzibbur, communal prayer. Therein also lies the challenge of the nation in the Diaspora. The sacrifices reflected unity inherently. There was one sacrifice in one place; individuality was totally obscured. In the unity of prayer, however, individuality is still experienced. In fact, in the Diaspora, it is the personal strength of individuals that maintains a Jewish presence. Nevertheless, unity must still be a priority. Even as individuals we must join as a nation.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1 Bamidbar c. 26.

2 Bamidbar 27:1-11.

3 Bamidbar 27:15-23.

4 See the specific language of Bamidbar 27:16.

5 See also Torah Temima, Bamidbar 28:2, note 2 which quotes this passage in the Malbim and expands upon it.

6 See Mishna Shekalim 4:1.

7 See, further, Shemot 30:11-16.

8 Interestingly, it should be noted that Rambam places the laws regarding the daily sacrifices in the Avoda section of the Mishna Torah, not the Karbanot section. This may also point to the unique nature of these sacrifices.

9 See T.B. Brachot 26b.

10 According to Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 5, each individual - man and woman - is commanded to pray.

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