Have you ever wondered why God commanded the Israelites to offer sacrifices?
Many religions have some form of sacrificial service involved in their worship, but it seems like such a foreign idea in our modern world. Our God is a God of life and goodness, not death and decay. What if the sacrificial service was meant to teach a deeper, more relatable truth about God and humanity’s responsibility to him?
Sacrifices have long been a point of contention and debate for believers in Yeshua. Most forms of Christianity have decided that God implemented the sacrificial system to atone for sins until Yeshua’s death, and now they are no longer necessary. While it may be true that Yeshua’s sacrifice is all one needs to attain salvation, abolishing the entire system is not what Yeshua intended and also flies in the face of prophecy. The sacrifices do foreshadow a glimpse into Yeshua’s sacrifice, but the prophets foretell:
For thus says the LORD: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever. (Jeremiah 33:17-18)
In the same manner that Yeshua must be a Son of David and rule as a physical king in Jerusalem, so too, must there be a Levitical system offering sacrifices; the two go hand in hand. Many more prophecies describe the laws of the priesthood as being eternal, but let’s not get into that now. For a closer look into the sacrifices, you can read What About the Sacrifices.
For now, let’s explore a unique thought on the sacrifices found within Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s  famous defense of Judaism titled The Kuzari. This book is filled with fascinating ideas and offers a defense of why Judaism is a valid religion amongst other religions of its day. While written around the twelfth century, many concepts can be dated back to earlier Jewish thought. One section explores the function of the sacrifices, and has this to say:
It is called: “Service of the Lord,” “the bread of thy God” (Numbers 8:11, Leviticus 21:8), and similar terms which relate to his pleasure in the beautiful harmony prevailing among the people and priesthood. He, so to say, accepts their hospitality and dwells among them in order to show them honor. He, however, is most Holy, and far too exalted to find pleasure in their meat and drink. (The Kuzari 2:26) 
This is to say that the very act of serving God is itself what allows for God to dwell, but goes on to describe the sacrificial system as a functioning body:
The whole body is thus harmoniously arranged, but under the control of the heart, which forms the primary home of the soul. Its localization in the brain is of secondary importance, the heart remaining its regulator. In exactly the same way is the living, godly people arranged, as Joshua said: “Hereby shall ye know that the living God is among you” (iii. 10). The fire was kindled by the will of God, when the people found favour in His sight, being a sign that He accepted their hospitality and their offerings. (The Kuzari 2:26)
The sacrificial system is the laws established for the children of Israel to obey so that God might make his presence known, and the Temple is meant to be the body in which he can dwell. In the same way, all the parts of the body must follow their natural laws to allow the spirit to dwell within the functioning physical body. Similarly, the Temple and the laws of the sacrifices function as the organs, bone, and blood to allow God’s presence to dwell within. God gave these specific laws that create the sanctity and structure that allows for his Spirit to dwell in such a way that it created a physical manifestation for all to witness (1 Kings 8:10-11).
Paul also alludes to the relationship between the body and the Temple: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). For the analogy to function, one cannot dismiss that on which it is based. What Paul is saying is that just as the Temple and the priesthood function to manifest God’s presence, so too, do we by living faithfully to his commandments.
With this in mind, we can see why the prophets would be so harsh against the people of Israel when they were not living up to God’s law. Because obedience is the basis for God’s ability to dwell among them, when the people of Israel are disobedient, the offerings in the Temple mean nothing.
If we then apply this perspective to Hebrews 10, which explores the nature of Yeshua’s sacrifice serving as the ultimate culmination of all sacrifices and being the source of all salvation, we can easily implement what we have learned in a whole new light:
Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
This seems to follow right in line with Rabbi HaLevi’s analogy. The Temple on earth is the physical representation of the heavenly Temple. The sacrifices and offerings must also function as a physical representation of the spiritual service of God. If one can bring God’s presence to earth through the physical sacrifice of animals, then how much more so can the offering of one’s perfect life in the heavenly Temple function as the ultimate service and atonement.
Just as the human body has many physical parts and holds the spirit within it, the sacrificial system is the physical form within which the Spirit of HaShem can dwell. This is fully realized in the life of Yeshua, who manifests this by keeping the commandments to perfection and perfectly manifesting God’s presence on earth, just like the Temple and sacrifices. God gave the physical Temple and sacrifices to manifest his presence on earth and teach the Jewish people how to serve God in this present age. The sacrifices did not atone for sin as it says in Hebrews, but they were a representation of God’s will and a way to make God known in the world.
- Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi was a twelfth-century Spanish philosopher and poet. His work The Kuzari has had a strong influence on Judaism and is considered the other side of Rambam’s more rational Guide for the Perplexed.
- Yehuda Halevi and Hartwig Hirschfeld. Judah Hallevi's Kitab Al Khazari. George Routledge & Sons, 1905.