For 2000 years we have survived outside the Land; if our Father Avraham was a wandering Aramean then we have been a wandering people too. I say ‘survived’ because outside is not our home; at home we live, outside we survive. And our survival has been orchestrated in no small manner by our instinctive clinging to Torah and our traditions, wherever we have been driven we took our scrolls and books with us. Easy to conclude then that it is Torah that is the focus of our people, Torah that forms us and gives us community cohesion and vision; Torah IS Judaism. Yet the obvious may still deceive.
Just as a child being given an ‘airfix’ construction kit would be chided for venerating the instructions instead of using them to actually build what the directions command, have we missed the point with our Gift of Torah? Have we reached a position where we are exalting the Gift, the revelation rather than what the ‘instructions’ are all about? For it is the Torah itself that commands us to build a Mishkan, a moveable tent of sacrifice. We are commanded to construct something that takes a central position not just in the camp of the Israelites but in Jerusalem and in Jewish thinking and theology. Torah forces us to divert our gaze away from itself to the purpose of the commandments at all: sacrifice.
Why should the Mishkan and later Temple with all the sacrifices at its heart be so central to Judaism? Because fundamentally Judaism recognises that sin has corrupted the relationship between G-d and man. Sin cannot be just removed, a G-d of justice as our G-d is will always demand a price for rebellious and wilful disobedience. Just as punishment fits the crime, so sacrifice fits the sin.
Yet we read in 1 Samuel 15 ‘to obey is better than sacrifice’ and from Hosea 6 ‘for I desire faithfulness and not sacrifice’. We are commanded to bring sacrifice for our sins, yet what HaShem truly seeks is a people who will actually be obedient. A people who will not need sacrifice.
We build something that should not exist and should not be needed because there is not one who has not sinned. And a powerful circular display of our dire spiritual condition and penchant or inclination to sin is revealed in the internal logic of Torah itself: we are commanded to bring sacrifices for sin, so a sinless person would not need to do this. However, to not sacrifice would be to sin because it breaks a command to sacrifice! The conclusion is clear: no one is free of sin. Even the most observant amongst us will conclude that despite doing everything ‘by the book’ they are still sinners. Having ticked the ‘list of Mitzvot’ to the end, we are still found wanting.
G-d does not desire sacrifice, but we need it. His mercy and love continues forever, and ultimately He provides a sacrifice equal to our sins. Mercy and justice demand sacrifice; Judaism is about restoring the relationship with HaShem from which we have all fallen.