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PRAYER PING #11

Don't blink. You'll miss the recitation of Korbanot.

The speed with which we all typically slice through this forlorn section, sandwiched between the morning brachot and the first kaddish, is eminently explicable if somewhat regrettable.  Explicable in that we're just no longer so into korbanot as a means of worship. It's been a millennium or two since we last did them, and prayer has really taken its place as the worship medium with which we struggle :) . Nonetheless, the description of the tamid offering in particular (ArtScroll p. 32) is a fixed part of our siddur, and it's worth understanding why it is there, and even why it's worth slowing down a little for it.

The essential source here is a Talmudic Aggadah in which Avraham seeks Divine assurances concerning the security of the nation that will issue from him. When God assures Avraham that there is nothing to fear, for even if the nation were to sin they would secure forgiveness through the offerings in the Temple, Avraham nonetheless presses further. "Master of the Universe!", Avraham says, "This holds good while the Temple remains standing, but when the Temple will no longer be, what will become of them?"  To this God replies, "I have already provided for them in the [text of the] Torah, the order of sacrifices. Whenever they read it I will deem it as if they had offered them before me and I will grant them pardon for all their iniquities." And so, the korban tamid is in our siddur.

Now for our purposes, it's vitally important to understand the nuance in God's response to Avraham.  God is not saying that when there is no Temple, our words will be regarded as the equivalent of offerings (to wit, there is no requirement that only a Kohen do the reciting), rather that they will be accepted as an alternative to offerings, possessing the same power to atone. The Aggadah is here inspired by the words of the prophet Hoshea who was addressing the Israelites of the Biblical northern kingdom, people who were physically prevented from worshiping in Jerusalem and who needed an alternative to sacrificial worship.  "Take words with you and return to the LORD," says Hoshea. "Say to Him: "Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; Instead of bulls, we will give the offering of our lips." Hoshea is providing the precedent that informs the Aggadah, the precedent of using the alternative of speech when korbanot are not available.

And so what we are actually doing when we recite the korban tamid text in the morning, is lifting up the alternative worship instrument called "speech", and declaring both our faith in its efficacy, and our intention to use it for the balance of the day. We are throwing in our lot with Hoshea, and embracing the power of speech as a means of worship.

The power of speech as a means of worship. As a means of unburdening our conscience, of baring our soul. As a means of committing to do better. Of articulating the nature and depth of our need. It can indeed be very powerful, and Hoshea's bold assertion can absolutely be justified. But we have to take a moment to recognize that this is the tool we're using, and to declare our determination to use it well. This is the moment that God told Avraham would always preserve us. The moment, in the words of the Aggadah, is "when we read it". When we speak it.

--Rav Yosef

Mon, August 19 2019 18 Av 5779