Rav Kook Torah

Vayikra: The Inner Light of Destruction


Flooding, wars, 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 offering of a korban in the Temple culminated in the ritual of zerikat ha-dam, as the kohen sprinkled the animal’s blood — its life-force — 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)

What is the significance of the offering being slaughtered on the northern side of the Temple compound? Why does the verse note that the kohanim are “descendants of Aaron” — is that not well-known? And why does it say the blood was dashed all around the Altar, when in fact it was just sprinkled twice, on the two diagonally opposite corners of the Altar?

Concealed Before God

Slaughter is an act of severe judgment. When performed on an offering, it serves to connect all the terrible decrees, disasters, and destruction that take place in the world to the hidden Divine rule of the universe. Everything emanates from the secret ways of the merciful God. All is ultimately good, leading to blessing and kindness.

From our limited perspective, slaughtering is held in low regard. It is thus performed near the base of the Altar. But it conceals a hidden light of kindness. The offering was slaughtered tzafonah lifnei Hashem. Literally, this means “on the northern side, before God.” But the word tzafon also means ‘hidden,’ so the verse may be translated as “concealed — before God alone.”

The task of revealing the inner light in the forces of destruction was given to the kohanim, the descendants of Aaron. Why the emphasis on Aaron’s 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 1:12). Aaron’s descendants inherited the special qualities necessary to uncover this hidden light.

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

The method the kohanim used to dash the blood is a fitting metaphor for our superficial perception. The physical eye only sees a partial reality, broken and disconnected. It sees the kohen dashing blood on two opposite corners. But on a higher plane, the vision is continuous and complete. The sprinkling encompasses the entire Altar.

Thus the compassionate children of Aaron, as they performed the service of zerikat ha-dam around the Altar, provided a glimpse of the hidden source of good and kindness in the universe.

(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 134)