“Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For the day that I brought you out of Egypt I spoke not to your fathers, nor commanded them anything in matters of burnt offerings or sacrifice: But this is what I commanded them, obey me and I will be your God, and you will be my people…but they did not obey nor lend me their ear….”(Jeremiah 7:21-24)
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. The haftarah is a special one, since it is Shabbat Hagadol. However, in years when Tsav is read not on the Shabbat before Pesach the Haftarah is excerpted from Jeremiah. Even though this week is Shabbat Hagadol I prefer to muse on the regular haftarah.
The quoted text above taken from the excerpted chapter of Jeremiah and read at the conclusion of parshat Tsav on a Shabbat not preceding Pesach reflects what the intent and purpose of the sacrifices in the Temple were intended to be. To understand what that message is one has to ask what did Jeremiah mean when he said “But this is what I commanded them, obey me and I will be your God, and you will be my people…”
What was it that God said to the Israelites on the day that He brought them out of Egypt? He didn’t command them on the laws of sacrificial worship – that came later. So what was it that was said to the Israelites on that historic day? The answer to this we find in Jeremiah chapter 34 which deals with the laws governing the freeing of slaves. The Israelites were commanded that on the seventh year they were to free the slaves. This they did but they immediately enslaved them again. They sought a way around the law – a loophole. The law was that the slaves had to be freed on the 7th year. Nowhere did it say that they couldn’t be enslaved again! So the Israelites committed a grave sin by corrupting the spirit of the law.
In Jeremiah 34:13-14 the prophet reveals that on the day the Israelites were taken out of Egypt they were commanded by God that any slaves in their possession would have to be freed on the 7th year. When Jeremiah says in chapter 7:23 “I will be your God and you will be my people” he was referencing the freeing of slaves on the 7th year. The corruption of this commandment given to the Israelites on their first day of freedom was a sin meriting the destruction of the Temple and the end to sacrificial worship. In this sense Jeremiah was saying that God didn’t want our sacrifices, but rather the obeying of the law. Sacrifice was never intended to be the essence of worship, but was only meant to symbolize devotion to God by those observing the covenant.