Rambam and Ramban on the Purpose of Korbonos

Rabbi Shaya Greenwald – Ohr Yerushalim
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In Parshas Vayikra we are taught about the Mitzvah of Korbanos (sacrifices). The Rambam, in the Sefer Moreh Nevuchim (3:46), suggests that the reason for the Mitzvah of Korbanos is that a person has a drive to worship Avodah Zarah. The nations in whose midst the Jewish people had dwelled actually worshipped sheep, goats and cattle, and the Jews also exhibited such leanings (Moreh Nevuchim 3:32). The Torah commands us to negate those tendencies by showing that we can slaughter these animals with impunity, for they are not deities, and by channeling this desire for sacrifice toward service of Hashem and not idols.

The Ramban on this week’s Parsha vehemently disputes this idea. He argues that the Rambam has taken an important mitzvah and relegated it as a mere sop to the Yetzer Hora. The Torah says that the Korban provides a Reiyach Nichoach, a sweet fragrance, implying that the Korban evokes a favorable response from Hashem. In addition, the Ramban argues that offering these animals to Hashem may actually not negate the reverence that the aforementioned nations had for the sheep goats and cattle; rather this Mitzvah enhances the status of those animals in the eyes of those who commit Avodah Zarah.

In summary, according to the Rambam, the idea of Korbanos is merely to negate the concept of Avoda Zara, and to channel to Avodas Hashem our desire for sacrifice. In contrast, according to the Ramban, a Korban has an intrinsic value, bringing one closer to Hashem.

The Meshech Chochma offers a compromise between the opinions of the Rambam and Ramban. We must first define a Bama which is a Mizbeach located outside the Beis Hamikdash location, and permitted to be used only during the time prior to the first Beis Hamikdash when there is no Mishkan or Mikdash (such as Shilo) standing. Rav Meir Simcha ( Meshech Chochma) suggests that the opinion of the Rambam is correct when one brings a Korban on a Bama, as the Mishna (Zvachim 113) records “ayn Reach nichoach B’Bamah Ktana” which can be interpreted to mean that the unique positive attributes of a Korban are only found in a Korban that is brought in the Beis Hamikdash, but on a Bama one merely accomplishes a Harchaka (distancing) from Avoda Zara. In the Beis Hamikdash itself, however, the Meshech Chochma assumes the approach of the Ramban.