As we begin our third book of Torah, the book of Vayikra or Leviticus, we transition into the subject of sacrifices in the service that took place in the Tabernacle. And for many, as we enter into the subject matter, it can prove to be uncomfortable reading. We read of animals being slaughtered and burnt as a way of praying or sacrificing to God; this whole sacrificial system can seem rather archaic and out of touch with our modern sensibilities.
The book wastes no time and begins as Adonai called to Moses who spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying. “Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to Adonai, they shall choose their offering from the herd or from the flock” (Lev. 1:2). In this way, we are situated in the place where we left off at the end of the Book of Shemot, at the end of Exodus.
With the Tabernacle having been completed, Moses and God are now having a conversation, and God says to Moses to tell the Israelites that when the people want to bring an offering, they shall bring it from the herd or from the flock. And in the English we lose something of the meaning of the Hebrew. Because in the Hebrew, we read “ki yakriv mi kem korban.” And this word “korban” and the idea of “yakriv” comes from the Hebrew root “karov,” with a sense of drawing close.
The sacrificial system was a way for the Israelites to feel a close connection to God. This might have happened because they brought the sacrifices to the Tabernacle, the place that was God's dwelling place amidst the community. So in making that journey there they might have felt that they were entering into God's sacred space. But in another way, just the act of doing something physical - taking something of their own possessions - might have given them a sense of connection and closeness to God.
For us in theory, this closeness, this “yakriv” comes from our prayers and from the words that we speak, but we might wonder if prayers are a sufficient substitute for sacrifices and what other ways we might find for drawing close to God. Each one of us, made in the image of God, possesses within us that divine spark and perhaps, when each one of us helps another person, extends a hand to another person, and just cares or loves someone else - in that way we draw close not just to that person but also to the divine spark. And therefore by extension, we draw close to God.