We think of the five types of offering in the Dwelling (Mishkan in Hebrew) as being animals: goats, calves, even doves. But one offering, the meal offering, was of matzoh. How fitting now, around Passover.
For the guilt offering, the fat was given to God. But the breast (brisket) and right thigh (shank) went to the priests to eat. (The priests must have eaten a lot of stews because the shank is the toughest of the cuts of beef. The brisket, though, makes a yummy pot roast.)
We could view this giving of meat as people’s payment to the priests for spiritual services. Today synagogues pay a Rabbi to perform spiritual services for the community. So the need is still there. What’s changed is the way we fill it.
This change away from animal sacrifice started as early as the Prophets, about 2500 years ago. Here’s Isaiah (1:11 to 17):
Why do I need all your sacrifices?”
Says the Lord.
I am stuffed with burnt offerings of rams…
lambs and he-goats…
Who asked that of you?
Cease to do evil.
Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice.
Aid the ill-treated.
So Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, about 500 years later, was probably thinking of Isaiah when he said “Don’t be upset about the loss of the Temple as a place to sacrifice. We have acts of kindness to do atonement.”
Another way we’ve replaced animal and matzoh sacrifice is to perform rituals in the home. For example, there is the ritual of “taking the challah.” In Temple times, people were supposed to bring part of their bread dough to the priests, or kohanim. Today, many Jews, when they bake challah, separate a small piece and either burn it or throw it away. (Thanks to Rabbi Nancy Kreimer for this insight.)
As Rabbi Shosh has pointed out:
When the rabbis of Ancient Israel attempted to recreate the warmth, connection and feeling of being together in Temple life, they moved the altar to the home. The rabbis did their best to re-create the sights, smells and scenes of the Holy Temple.
Food for Thought: