Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael HirschCourtesy

The Rambam (Hilchos Temidin Umusafin 1:10) tells us that a kohen would hold the legs of the korban tamid lamb in preparation for shechitah. Why? Why weren’t the lamb’s legs simply bound with rope? The Gemara (Tamid 31b) answers: Because binding animals’ legs is a pagan practice.

According to Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, this halakha contains an important message. Commenting on Shemos 29:39, Rav Hirsch writes that both Jews and non-Jews attach great symbolism to lambs. But the Jewish lamb is very different than its non-Jewish counterpart.

Billions of non-Jews venerate the “sacrificial lamb,” which symbolizes “passive suffering and endurance without resistance.” They see “in this endurance to the death the ideal of life’s mission.” Not so Judaism. In Jewish ritual, a lamb is “happy, joyful, virile, unblemished” and “in eternal freshness of youth” (i.e., less than a year old). And this lamb doesn’t “suffer” but rather “finds its constant happiness and fullness of life…in giving itself up to the guidance of its Shepherd.”

Rav Hirsch stresses this point numerous times in his writings. Noted philosophers like Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche slam religion for emasculating man, making him weak and passive. That may be true of Christianity (the radical black leader Malcolm X certainly thought so – that’s why he converted to Islam). But it’s not true of Judaism, argues Rav Hirsch. Judaism does not glorify weakness. In fact, it does the very opposite.

Thus, most korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash must be male (symbolizing strength), young, and unblemished. Kohanim, too, must be unblemished. For the Beis Hamikdash is not “a hospital [or] old-age home erected for the wrecks of humanity,” writes Rav Hirsch. G-d wants the best versions of ourselves, not the meekest. He wants our passions and pursuits sanctified, not killed.

Thus, while pagans may bind the feet of their animal sacrifices, we don’t. “Not the lamb tied hand and foot but as the free living creature is how Israel represents itself, giving itself up freely to the lead and guidance of its Shepherd.”

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch(1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.

Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.