Today, we will discuss the mizbeach, the altar in the Temple courtyard. This altar was built with precise measurements, and was located outside the doorway leading to the inside of the Temple proper. The Kohein (member of the priestly tribe who served in the Temple) would ascend the altar by means of a ramp, and would lay the already slaughtered animal on the fire burning there. As the offering cooked, the smell rose upwards, and was curiously described by the Torah as a “ Reyach nichoach”, a “pleasing aroma to G-d.” Does G-d enjoy the smell of barbeque? Does G-d take an actual pleasure in the smell of burnt offerings? Does G-d have a nose in the first place? The answer to all of these questions is of course no. But through examining this service in a spiritual lens, we can begin to appreciate G-d’s special pleasure.
The famous Chasidic book, “Tanya”, written by the first Rebbe of Chabad, dwells at length on the make-up of the human soul. Each person, it says, has within him a G-dly soul, and an animal soul. The G-dly soul is the actual divine spark inside of the person, which inspires them to do holy acts. The animal soul is not intrinsically evil, but is only concerned with the physical needs of the body, for instance eating, sleeping, etc.
The goal of each person in this world is to utilize their animal soul in the service of G-d, hence raising it up to a level similar to that of the G-dly soul. This ongoing struggle is illustrated by the service on the Temple altar. When a person has a desire to do something inappropriate, say, to eat some food which Torah forbids, or to engage in a certain relationship, or to oversleep and miss prayers, that is his animal soul trying to assert itself. In these situations, a person must strengthen himself to fight against these desires. By actively not giving in, and living the way a Jew is meant to, he is described as taking his inner “animal” and actually “sacrificing it to G-d”. By setting aside his own personal will, he is bringing an offering to G-d. Kabbalah explains that this service is the entire reason for our creation; to subdue our animalistic urges. That is why the Hebrew word for “offering”, “Korban”, shares the same root as the word for “bringing close”, “Karov”. When we make sacrifices in G-d’s honor, we actually become closer to him. This is the pleasing aroma that G-d enjoys from our sacrifices. When he sees His people struggling and working hard on themselves to be close to Him, this gives G-d immense delight.
Wishing you and your family a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Akiva Hall