The Inner Light of Destruction

Rabbi Chanan Morrison

Flooding, war, earthquakes — every day we are bombarded with news of catastrophe and disaster. Is this how God envisioned His world? How can we relate to the many destructive forces in the world?

The focal point of the sacrificial service involved dashing the blood around the altar:

“He will slaughter (the offering) near the altar’s base, on the north side before God. The kohanim, descendants of Aaron, will then dash its blood all around the altar.” (Lev. 1:11)

This verse raises a number of questions:

  • Why was the slaughtering performed on the northern side of the Temple compound? And why near the base of the altar?
  • Why does the Torah mention that the kohanim were descendants of Aaron — isn’t that well known?
  • Why does the Torah say the blood was dashed all around the altar, when in fact it was just sprinkled twice, on two opposite corners?

Slaughter is an act of punishing fury and judgment. When performed on an offering, it connects all of the terrible judgments, calamitous havoc and destruction in the world, to the hidden Divine rule. Everything emanates from the secret ways of the Merciful God. All is ultimately for good, for blessing, and for kindness. From the limited, physical perspective, the slaughter has a lowly standing. It is performed “near the altar’s base”. But a hidden light of kindness is concealed in this act. The offering is slaughtered “tzafona lifnay Hashem” (literally, “on the north side before God”) — “concealed before God”.

The task of revealing the hidden light in the forces of destruction was given to the kohanim, the descendants of Aaron. Why the emphasis on Aaronic lineage? Aaron was renowned for his compassion and kindness. “Be a disciple of Aaron: Love peace and pursue peace; love people, and draw them to Torah.” (Avot I:12) Aaron’s descendants inherited the special qualities necessary to uncover this secret light.

The Temple service teaches us that destruction of life has a place even in the holiest service. It is precisely in terms of the highest level — the most all-encompassing perspective of reality — that phenomena that appear inexplicable and destructive from a limited outlook, may be seen as contributing to the world. Our physical perception can discern only a sliver of reality — in terms of time, space, and true understanding of events. We lack knowledge of the overall context; we are unable to see the entire picture.

The method of dashing the offering’s blood is a fitting metaphor for this duality of perception. The physical eye can only see a partial reality, broken and disconnected. It only sees a kohen dashing blood on two opposite corners. But on a higher, spiritual level, the vision is continuous and complete. The sprinkling encompasses the entire altar.

Thus, the compassionate children of Aaron, performing an inner sprinkling all around the altar, were able to reveal a sense of the hidden source of good and kindness in the universe.

(adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 134)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison

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