“ואם זבח שלמים קרבנו אם מן הבקר הוא מקריב אם זכר אם נקבה תמים יקריבנו לפני ה’ “
“If his sacrifice is a peace offering, if he brings it from cattle, whether male or female, he shall bring it unblemished before the Lord.”
[Vaikra (Leviticus) 3:1]
This posuk (verse) presents the shelamim (“Peace offering”). Rashi, quoting Midrash Torat Kohanim, [16:1] offers two explanations of the title “shelamim:” the first that it brings peace (shalom) to the world and the second that it brings peace to the altar, to the Kohanim and to the one who offers it.
Questions About the Posuk
How does offering a korban (sacrifice) bring peace to the world? Does offering korbanot (sacrifices) cause people to stop being jealous of each other or to cease stealing from each other?
Another point which must be clarified is why it is specifically the shelamim offering which brings peace and not other korbanot (sacrifices).
Concerning Rashi’s second explanation, we can add the question: What type of peace is referred to? Is there some tension or struggle between the Kohanim and those who offer korbanot (sacrifices) that requires achieving peace between them? Why is it necessary to achieve peace for “the altar, the Kohanim and to the one who offers shelamim?”
Offering Sacrifices Brings Bounty Down to the Earth
In his book Be’er baSadeh, Rabbi Meir Binyamin Menacḥem Danon explains that God brings bounty to the earth through the shelamim offering, and this engenders peace among humans. There is a specific influence, of which we do not always perceive or understand, but it exists, nonetheless. The very act of offering a korban (sacrifice) in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) creates this influence. Midrash Tancḥuma [Introduction to Parashat Toledot] states:
“כך שנה רבי חייא בר אבא בשם רבי יהודה, כל המביא שלמים לעולם, מביא שלום לעולם. אמר רבי אליעזר, בשעה שהיו זבחים בעולם היה שלום, משחרב בית הזבחים, אין לך יום שאין בו קללה ופורענויות”
Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba says, quoting Rabbi Yehuda: “All who bring the shelamim offering into the world bring peace into the world.” Rabbi Eliezer says: “When there were shelamim offerings in the world, there was peace in the world. Since the destruction of the House of Sacrifices, there is not a single day without curse and retribution.”
In our days, the hidden influence of shelamim, the influence which fostered peace among God’s creatures within the world is lost; hence we have a multitude of woes and of wars.
Peace in the World
Maharal of Prague explains that the meaning of the concept of peace is that every creation and every force within God’s world occupies its proper place, with no force impinging on another. Within the world there are numerous powerful forces, each seeking its own place. When the Beit HaMikdash stood, the shelamim offerings exerted their special subliminal influence, which created harmony among the various forces within the world. This harmony created a world of unity.
“Peace to the Mizbeach (Altar), to the Kohanim and to the One Who Offers the Shelamim”
We can now understand that Rashi’s two explanations are really two perspectives on the same matter. Rashi’s second explanation does not intend that there is some sort of tension between Kohanim and those who brought korbanot (sacrifices); rather the intention (as Maharal explains) is that shelamim convey the unity among the Mizbeach (altar), Kohanim and those who offer it, since both the Kohanim and the one who brought the sacrifice partake of it.
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch presents similar thoughts in elucidating the verse we quoted above. Fostering peace does not mean that there is some mutual imbalance. Peace is the condition of completeness and harmony – the feeling that one thing complements another, and both are equal parts of a whole. The fact that all partake of the shelamim reveals that they are all connected to sanctity, which does not remain only at the altar. The unique aspect of shelamim is the fact that not only do the altar and Kohanim receive parts of the sacrifice, but the ordinary Israelite (or Levite) who brought the shelamim as well is part of the sublime sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash and its korbanot (sacrifices).
This explains why it is specifically shelamim from among all the korbanot (sacrifices) which bring peace to the world. It is shelamim which express the harmony of existence and the fact that we are all connected to sanctity and to God. Thus, Rashi’s second explanation actually is the basis for his first explanation.
God Manifests His Shechina Within Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) When They Are United
The peace we achieve through shelamim, this unity within the world, can survive only when we are internally united. Rabbi David Feinstein notes that the gematriya (numerical equivalent) of the word shelamim is 420, the number of years the Beit HaMikdash Hasheini (Second Temple) stood. This is exactly our point: the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) fosters peace in the world; God, as it were, dwells in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) when there is peace and unity within Am Yisrael. It is then that God manifests His Shechina, with the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) which is the manifestation of the Shechina within Am Yisrael, as the Torah states “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם” (“And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst”) [Shemot (Exodus) 25:8].
The Midrash offers two explanations for the name “shelamim” korbanot (sacrifices). The first is that they foster peace in the world, the second that they bring peace to the Mizbeach (altar), to the Kohanim and to the one who offers it. Concerning the first, Be’er baSadeh explains that shelamim foster peace by bringing God’s bounty down to earth. Maharal explains the concept of peace as harmony and cooperation among the various forces which God created in His world. Based upon this, and with the addition of Rabbi Hirsch’s comments on the posuk, we explained that the Midrash’s second suggestion reflects the unity achieved through offering shelamim. Because shelamim unite the Kohanim and the other castes, it is specifically they which foster peace in the world. Thus, the Midrash’s second explanation actually completes the first.
We can achieve this peace in the world only when there is true peace among us, within Am Yisrael, for it is only then that God manifests His Shechina within us.
Concerning internal peace within Am Yisrael, Rabbi Kook z”tl commented: אורות הקודש (ח”ג, עמ’ שכד) “ואם נחרבנו, ונחרב העולם עמנו, על ידי שנאת חנם, נשוב להבנות, והעולם עמנו יבנה, על ידי אהבת חנם” (“Since we were destroyed and the world with us, as the result of unfounded hatred, we will be rebuilt, and the world rebuilt with us through unbounded love”).
May we be privileged to arouse love among ourselves and thereby merit the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, speedily in our days. Amen.