The Mishnah (4:5) mentions a Korban that is brought by a non-Jew. All of the Korbanot that we have learnt about in Masechet Zevachim until this point are only relevant for members of Bnei Yisrael. What is the role of a non-Jew in the Jewish Bet Hamikdash?
When Shlomo Hamelech finished building the first Bet Hamikdash he offered a lengthy prayer to Hashem. As part of that prayer, he asked that Hashem answer the prayers of any gentile that comes to the Bet Hamikdash so that “all the peoples of the world may know your Name, to fear You, as does Your people Israel” (Malachim I 8:28). And later, in Yeshaya’s prophecies we see a similar theme: “for My House will be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Yeshaya 56:7).
We see that the non-Jew has a role in the most intimate relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael – the relationship that takes place at the Bet Hamikdash. The non-Jew is invited to attend the Bet Hamikdash to pray and to offer sacrifices.
The infamous story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza (Gittin 56) provides an example of a non-Jewish Korban that went horribly wrong. After being publicly humiliated, Bar Kamtza vows revenge. He tells the Roman Caesar who controlled the region that the Jews are planning to revolt. The Roman Caesar sends an animal to be sacrificed in the Bet Hamikdash. Bar Kamtza deliberately causes a blemish to the animal so that it becomes disqualified. When the Sanhedrin refuse to offer the animal, the Caesar is incensed – he sends an army to Yerushalyim and this eventually leads to the destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash.
The gentiles are destined to have a more positive experience in the future, when the Bet Hamikdash has been rebuilt. After the war of Gog and Magog, the war that will result in the final redemption and the Messianic era, the nations will join Bnei Yisrael every year in Yerushalayim, to celebrate the festival of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16).
The whole concept of Korbanot is difficult for us to understand. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim goes so far as to suggest that the reason the Korbanot were commanded is that the accepted form of worship at the time that the Torah was given was animal sacrifice1. There are commentators who attempt to explain the meaning behind the Korbanot,*however the halachot relating to the Korbanot fall clearly within the category of Chokim* – the laws that do not have an apparent reason.
For example, why is it that certain types of Korbanot require the blood to be applied to the upper part of the alter whereas other types of Korbanot require the blood to be applied to the lower part of the alter? If the blood is applied to the wrong part of the altar for a particular sacrifice then the meat of the Korban becomes forbidden for consumption but the owner of the Korban has discharged their obligation. How can we understand this? When faced with so many fine distinctions and detailed Halachot, and with our limited intellect, our only response can be that it is a G’zeirat Hakatuv – it is just a decree of the Torah.
It is interesting that in the middle of Masechet Zevachim, which is packed full of Chokim, we see a reference to one of the most important roles of Bnei Yisrael, our role to be a light unto the nations (Isaiah 42:6). This role is a clearly understandable role rather than a Chok. We have the important task of teaching the world about the existence of Hashem. Allowing the gentiles to join us in the worship of Hashem in the Bet Hamikdash is an important part of that task. It teaches the world that Hashem is their G-d as well as ours.
Today in Galut, when there is no Bet Hamikdash and no Korbanot, we still have the task of being a light unto the nations and teaching the world about Hashem. We can accomplish this by being a role model for proper behaviour. Our dealings with all people should be in a pleasant manner so that people are forced to say “The person who learned Torah, see how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds” (Yoma 86a)
1 The Rambam retracts from this somewhat controversial position and confirms that all of the mitzvot have eternal relevance.
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