Fire, Offerings and Passover
There is no Hebrew counter-part for the English word: “sacrifice”. The terms that the Bible uses to describe the sacrifices in the Temple are: “olah” – a word that represents the burning of the offering with an emphasis of the smoke that rises from the fire; “zevach” – a word that denotes the slaughtering of the offering and its subsequent consumption by the worshipers; “mincha” – a gift; and the word: “korban” – which also means “gift”, with the additional connotation of closeness. The underlying concept of the Biblical offering seems to be the offering of something to God.
It is actually impossible to “give” anything to God. In the Psalms (50:12) God declares: “If I were hungry I would not tell you for mine is the world and all that fills it”. When preparing the materials for the construction of the Temple, David acknowledged: “O Lord, our God, all this vast amount that we have prepared to build a Temple for your holy name is from your own hand, for everything is yours” (1Chronicles 29:16). The created cannot give anything to the Creator of all. Yet God allows His creations to bring offerings to Him and He demonstrates His acceptance of these gifts by sending a miraculous fire from heaven to consume the offerings that were presented to Him (Leviticus 9:24; 2Chronicles 7:1). It is God’s sign of His love for His creations that he accepts their offerings. Not because He needs them, but because He loves us.
In order to give the offering an appearance of “giving” something to God, we need to have a designated place that represents God’s presence. Since the entire world is God’s place (Isaiah 6:3), moving something from here to there will not bring the item any closer to God.
Throughout Scripture we find several methods that are used to create an impression of bringing something closer to God. A fire is one of these methods. Since we perceive God as dwelling in heaven and since the fire sends the offering skyward in a pillar of smoke, the fire symbolizes offering something to God. An altar is another method that is used to create this impression. An altar is a structure that is built with the deliberate and conscious intention of designation to God’s service. By placing an offering on an altar that is consecrated to God, we arrive at the impression of having offered something to God. Yet another method of creating the impression of “giving” to God is the Temple or the Tabernacle. These are buildings were built by God’s express command and were consecrated with miraculous signs. God tied His identity to these edifices, and He allowed them to be called “The House of God”. By bringing something to “God’s house” we have the impression of “giving” to God. Generally, all three methods were used to create the impression of bringing an offering to God. Most offerings were brought on an altar in the Temple and were consumed by a fire on this altar. Thus all three methods were used to create the impression of having “given” something to God.
The Passover offering in Egypt is unusual. It is the only offering where not one of these three methods were used to create the impression of “bringing” something to God. There was no altar, there was no Temple and nothing was put in a fire to be consumed and sent heavenward in a pillar of smoke. How then was that Passover considered an “offering” to God?
It seems that we have overlooked another method that God uses to create the impression of having “given” to God. The Torah teaches us that various parts of certain offerings were to be eaten by the priests (Leviticus 6:19, 7:6). The priests were people who were consecrated for the service of God. When they would eat from the offerings, it would be considered that the members of God’s household had eaten these foods. The same concept appears in relation to the tithes that were brought to the Temple to be eaten by the Levites. God commands the people to: “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house…” (Malachi 3:10). When people who are consecrated for the service of God eat the offerings, it is as if we have brought the offering to God.
The entire purpose of the exodus was to create a nation for God. By redeeming Israel from Egypt, God made them a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6) and a people who are designated for the service of God (Exodus 4:23; Leviticus 25:55). From the time of the exodus onward, the Jewish home became a place that is consecrated for the service of God (Deuteronomy 6:9; 11:20). By placing the blood of the Passover on the doorposts of God’s servants and by having God’s children partake of the meat of the lamb, the Passover offering was “given” to God.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal