The Korban Tamid - A Continuous Beginning

  • Rav Yair Kahn

1.  And I will dwell among the children of Israel


Parashat Tetzaveh continues where Parashat Teruma left off.  While the focus of Parashat Teruma was on the construction of the Mishkan and its various vessels, Parashat Tetzaveh describes how to make the priestly garments.  These two parashiyot combine to form a section known as “melekhet ha-Mishkan.


After describing the priestly garments, the section ends with detailed directions on how to sanctify the priests, their garments, and the Mishkan.  At this point, the Torah states:


And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by My glory.  And I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting, and the altar, Aaron also and his sons will I sanctify, to minister to Me as priests.  And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God.  And they shall know that I am Hashem their God that brought them out of the land of Egypt that I may dwell among them.  I am Hashem their God.  (29:43-46)


These verses echo the ultimate purpose of the Mishkan; “that I may dwell among them.” Moreover, they function as a closing bracket on the entire “melekhet ha-Mishkan,” section which opened at the beginning of Parashat Teruma with the parallel verse: “And they shall make for Me a Mishkan that I shall dwell among them” (25:8).


Curiously, the Torah introduces the commandment of the korban tamid immediately prior to the concluding lines of the “melekhet ha-Mishkan” section:


And this is that which you shall offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually.  The one lamb you shall offer in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at duskIt shall be a continual burnt-offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before Hashem, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there." (29:38-42)


This is puzzling for a number of reasons.  First, this commandment is totally out of context.  The korban tamid, which literally means the “consistent korban,” is meant to be sacrificed twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.  It appears to apply to the day-to-day use of the altar, and at first glance has nothing to do with either the building or the sanctification of the Mishkan.  Second, the entire section is redundant, insofar as it appears almost word for word in Parashat Pinchas (Bamidbar ch. 28), where the Torah describes the communal sacrifices brought daily and on special occasions.  Why did the Torah insert this parasha of the korban tamid immediately prior to the concluding verses of the melekhet ha-Mishkan section?


2.  A Constant Burnt Offering that was Brought at Har Sinai


Before dealing with this problem, let us recall a distinction elucidated by the Rambam in his Sefer Ha-mitzvot.  The Rambam (shoresh 3) notes that mitzvot that are limited to a specific time period (she’eino noheig le-dorot) should not be included in the list of the Taryag (613) mitzvot.  For instance, we do not count mitzvot regarding the eating of manna, which were only applicable during the forty years Bnei Yisrael were in the wilderness.  Only a mitzva that is noheig le-dorot is counted as one of Taryag


With this in mind, let us return to the repetition of the korban tamid.  There is a verse in Bamidbar regarding this korban that does not appear in Shemot: "It is a continual burnt-offering, which was brought at Har Sinai" (Bamidbar 28:6).  Rashi brings two interpretations as to what korban at Har Sinai the pasuk is referring to.  According to Rashi's first suggestion, this refers to the korban tamid mentioned in Parashat Tetzaveh, which was brought during the days of the Mishkan’s inauguration.  According to this explanation, there is a clear distinction between the parasha of korban tamid in Tetzaveh and that in Pinchas.  In Parashat Tetzaveh, the Torah commands the sacrifice of the korban tamid as part of the dedication and sanctification of the Mishkan; during the days of the milu’im, a first-year lamb was to be sacrificed morning and evening as a burnt offering.  In other words, it is a mitzvah that is not noheig le-dorot, since it was only applicable during the yimei ha-miluim, and it does not include a command to bring the korban tamid after the dedication of the Mishkan.  It is only in Parashat Pinchas that Bnei Yisrael were commanded to bring a korban tamid le-dorot


Based on Rashi's suggestion, the mention of the korban tamid in Tetzaveh is contextually consistent.  Moreover, it is through the dedication and sanctification of the altar that the Mikdash becomes a meeting place, as it were, between man and Hashem.  This idea connects the korban tamid to the concluding lines of the melekhet ha-Mishkan section, as it says: “A constant burnt offering for generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you and speak to you there.  And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by My glory” (29:42-43).  In addition, there is no redundancy, since the Parashat Pinchas section is needed as the primary source for the mitzva of the korban tamid as a mitzva that is noheig le-dorot.


Based on the above, one could claim that the korban tamid has a dual characteristic.  On the one hand, it is one of the most consistent and routine forms of worship in the Mikdash.  Every day, the sacrifices in the Temple would begin with the korban tamid of the morning and conclude with the korban tamid brought every evening.  On the other hand, the korban tamid participates in the dedication of the Mishkan and functions as a way to sanctify the altar. 


In fact, if there arises a need to rededicate the altar, the mishna in Menachot (49a) teaches us that the korban tamid of the morning is used: "We only dedicate … the altar of burnt offerings with the tamid of the morning." The ensuing gemara (50a) quotes a beraita that derives this halakha from a drasha: "'And the second lamb you should make at dusk' – the second is at dusk, however the first is not at dusk.  When was this said? When the altar was not yet dedicated.  However, if the altar was already dedicated, even the first can be at dusk." Rashi comments that the halakha of dedication of the altar is derived from the verses in Tetzaveh, which refer to the initial dedication of the altar, while the laws of routine sacrifice are learned from the verses in Pinchas.


In summary, the parasha dealing with the korban tamid in Pinchas refers to the tamid as a routine and consistent act of worship, and is standard, similar to the other sacrifices listed there.  In contrast, the parasha in Tetzaveh deals with the korban tamid as something novel and exciting.  It refers to the initial sacrifice on the altar, which created a new sanctity and outlined a purpose and role for an altar that had never before been used.  Once the inauguration of the Mishkan is complete, we can assume that unless the altar must be rededicated, this aspect of the korban tamid is no longer relevant. 


The Ramban in Parashat Pinchas (28:2) rejects Rashi’s position.  He notes that the parasha in Tetzaveh explicitly refers to future generations: “A constant burnt offering for generations” (29:42).  If so, how can Rashi claim that the section in Tetzaveh refers only to the days of milu’im? Therefore, the Ramban argues that the commandment to bring a korban tamid twice daily was already given in Tetzaveh; the repetition in Pinchas, where the musafim sacrifices (additional sacrifices brought on special occasions) are introduced, is simply part of the presentation of the complete system of national sacrifices, which includes the twice daily tamid and the musafim. 


3.  The Covenantal Burnt Offering


Before attempting to resolve this question, let us look at Rashi’s second explanation of the reference to the korban tamid as "the burnt offering brought at Har Sinai:


[The Torah] compared the tamid burnt offering to the burnt offering of Har Sinai that was sacrificed prior to matan Torah, as it says, “And he placed [the blood] in the utensils.” This teaches us that utensils [to receive the blood] are required. 


According to this explanation, the Torah connected the tamid to the burnt offering brought during the covenant at Sinai documented at the end of parashat Mishpatim (ch. 24).  Rashi is based on a gemara in Chagiga (6a), which brings two opinions regarding the burnt offering that was brought during the Sinaitic covenant.  According to one opinion, it was analogous to an olat re'iya (the burnt offering that is brought when one appears before Hashem on one of the three regalim).  The second opinion argues that it was a korban tamid


My teacher, R. Soloveitchik zt"l, questioned this gemara based on a sugya in Keritut (9a), which considers the burnt offering brought during the covenant to be the paradigm of a korban geirut, a sacrifice offered upon conversion.  This seems, at first glance, to contradict both opinions cited in Chagiga.  One can explain the identification of the korban geirut with the opinion that the covenantal burnt offering was analogous to the olat re'iya.  The idea of olat re'iya is that one should bring a burnt offering when one appears before Hashem as an expression of one's total subservience to Him.  (In a burnt offering, the entire animal is sacrificed on the altar, as opposed to all other sacrifices, where some of the meat is eaten.) Similarly, when Yisrael completed the geirut process and appeared before Hashem at Sinai, they brought a korban analogous to a korban re'iya as a reflection of their total acceptance and subservience to the will of Hashem.  The same korban was demanded from every ger during the time of the Mikdash, as he appeared before Hashem to unconditionally accept Hashem's will. 


How, however, are we to explain the opinion that the burnt offering at Sinai was a tamid? Is a ger meant to bring a korban tamid? R. Soloveitchik argued that the korban geirut is certainly not a tamid.  Rather, the tamid is the eternalization of the national geirut.  Twice daily, Yisrael are required to bring the very same korban that they brought during the Sinaitic covenant, as a completion of the geirut.  Every morning and evening, Yisrael must commemorate the initial moment of the covenant at Har Sinai. 


4.  A Burnt Offering for Generations


We can now return to Rashi's first suggestion, that “the tamid brought at Har Sinai” is a reference to the korban tamid mentioned in Tetzaveh, which was only brought during the miluim.  As we saw, the Ramban rejected this interpretation, arguing that the Tetzaveh section makes explicit mention of future generations.  In defense of Rashi, we might suggest that the fact that future generations are mentioned in Tetzaveh indicates that this unique aspect of the korban tamid - as a dedication of the altar - should be eternalized as well.  After all, in Parashat Pinchas, the Torah explicitly likened the daily tamid to the tamid of Sinai, which according to Rashi is a reference to the milu’im.  Even as we worship Hashem day after day, bringing the same exact korban in the morning and then again in the evening, we should strive for an awareness that we are bringing not only the tamid of Pinchas, but the Tetzaveh tamid as well.  We should awake every morning with the refreshing attitude that we are about to re-enact the yimei hamilu’im, and “rededicate the altar” full of enthusiasm and excitement.  Therefore, in parashat Tetzaveh, when the Torah commanded the initial sacrifices that dedicated the altar and brought sanctity into the Mishkan, it added parenthetically that this same korban, with all its attendant energy and excitement, should be sacrificed for generations as well.  Similarly, according to the second suggestion of Rashi, the korban tamid eternalizes the covenant between Yisrael and Hashem. 


This message is more than just a motivational tool or a method of battling the fatigue of routine.  It is a pronouncement that there is no routine.  The fact that Hashem in His infinity, dwells, as it were, within Yisrael, cannot be taken for granted; it is a miracle as well as an absurdity.  Every single day, worship in the Mikdash begins with a korban tamid, whose very name illustrates its consistency.  However, this tamid does not reflect routine.  It is the burnt offering that was brought at Har Sinai, either when the miracle of the covenant or when the miracle of a meeting place between Hashem and man was initiated.  There is no law of nature that can support these miracles.  Rather, Hashem renews them with his grace every single day. 


Due to our sins, we no longer have a Mikdash, and we can no longer bring the korban tamid twice a day.  But the miraculous connection to Hashem and Yisrael continues through the Torah and its mitzvot.  Therefore, the miracle of the Torah and mitzvot should be appreciated each day anew, as Rashi comments: "'On this day, Hashem commanded' – on every day you should consider them as new, as if on that day they you were commanded" (Devarim 26:16).