Michael LinetskyThe writer is director of the Torat Eretz Yisrael Institute (www.torateretzyisrael.org).
God warns the People of Israel that one who slaughters an animal outside of the Tent of Meeting and not before the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the Presence of God will bear the punishment of being cut off from the Jewish People. (Lev. 17:3). The reason for prohibiting even the slaughtering of animals outside of the Tent of Meeting is not entirely clear.
Yannai, the great 6th century Poet of the Land of Israel versifies this passage as follows: “ You are the righteous One which makes righteous. In order to make righteous the righteous nation, you have taught them to slaughter in righteousness (tzedek) an animal which you permitted for righteous (tzedek) offerings.”
Yannai’s rendition is better understood on the backdrop of Rabbinic Traditions that were current in the Land of Israel in his days. One such tradition which appears to be his source is preserved in Vayikra Rabbah:
“The Children of Israel brought sacrifices violating the prohibition of bamoth and [as a result] retribution would come upon them. The Holy One Blessed He said: At all times you shall [only] bring sacrifices before Me in the Tent of Meeting. This way they shall be saved. (Vayikra Rabba 22:8).”
Once the Mishkan was erected, sacrificing on bamoth (altars in other locations) became prohibited (Zevahim 14:4), but the Jewish People continued and brought punishment upon themselves. God restricts the Jewish People from even slaughtering the sacrificial meat outside of the Tent of Meeting. He makes it less opportune for the Jewish People to stray to illegitimate sacrifice and thereby hopes to eradicate this practice from their midst.
The Rabbinic Tradition and Yannai’s apparent reworking of it differ in a number of nuances. For the Sages in this Tradition, God is the stereotypical maternal figure. He is concerned with the physical well-being of the Jewish People. The reason that God wants to eliminate sacrificing on bamoth is ultimately to put an end to the suffering of the Jewish People.
For Yannai, God is the paternal figure. He is consumed with the moral welfare and collective image of the Jewish People. God’s ultimate concern is to put an end to the sinning of the Jewish People, to cleanse them of the blotch that sin leaves behind and to make them righteous. This is evidenced by Yannai’s multiplied usage of “righteousness” and furthermore by his reinterpretation of the Scripture’s “command” as “taught” stressing the aspect of guidance.
God is not only judge, but as much our caretaker!
How deep are God’s interests in the welfare of His people?
The Talmud of the Land of Israel teaches us that God made certain that cases of irreconcilable differences between the House of Hillel and Shammai did not occur (Kiddushin 1:1 4a). This ensured a peaceful co-existence between the two houses and allowed them to marry into each other’s families.
Here God appears to go as far as actually orchestrating history to ensure a peaceful existence for His People.
The well-being of the Jewish People, physical or moral is a deeply personal matter to God who is immersed in the affairs of His people and will go to any lengths to save them from self-affliction and self-destruction. God may be our Judge, but He is even more so our guide and caretaker!