Did Hashem Command Us About Qorbanos?

Well, given this and next weeks’ parashios, as well as numerous other places in the Torah, the question in the subject line appears to have an obvious answer: Yes!

And yet, that’s not what Yirmiyahu appears to say (7:22-23):

כִּ֠י לֹֽא־דִבַּ֤רְתִּי אֶת־אֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ וְלֹ֣א צִוִּיתִ֔ים בְּי֛וֹם (הוציא) [הוֹצִיאִ֥י] אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם עַל־דִּבְרֵ֥י עוֹלָ֖ה וָזָֽבַח׃ For when I freed your ancestors from the land of Egypt, I did not speak with them about nor command them about burnt offerings or sacrifice.
כִּ֣י אִֽם־אֶת־הַדָּבָ֣ר הַ֠זֶּה צִוִּ֨יתִי אוֹתָ֤ם לֵאמֹר֙ שִׁמְע֣וּ בְקוֹלִ֔י וְהָיִ֤יתִי לָכֶם֙ לֵֽאלֹקים וְאַתֶּ֖ם תִּֽהְיוּ־לִ֣י לְעָ֑ם וַהֲלַכְתֶּ֗ם בְּכָל־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲצַוֶּ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֔ם לְמַ֖עַן יִיטַ֥ב לָכֶֽם׃ Rather, this is what I commanded them: Listen to My Voice, that I may be your G-d and you may be My people; walk the entire path that I enjoin upon you, that it may go well with you.

How can Yirmiyahu claim that Hashem told him that He did not speak to Benei Yisrael about nor command them about the qorban olah or other sacrifices?

I think the problem is with this translation. (Which was tweaked slightly from the JPS 1985 translation.)

The common take is to read “עַל־דִּבְרֵ֥י” as “about” or “concerning”. Which I believe is accurate, but insufficient. Earlier in the pereq (7:8), Yirmiyahu uses the same idiom:

הִנֵּ֤ה אַתֶּם֙ בֹּטְחִ֣ים לָכֶ֔ם עַל־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַשָּׁ֑קֶר לְבִלְתִּ֖י הוֹעִֽיל׃ Behold, you trust in lying words, that cannot profit.

Here the “al divrei” are rendered “in words”, referring to the thrust of what the people chose to rely in. Or Shemu’el II 3:8, where “Avner became very angry al divrei Ish-Boshes”. Ish-Boshes was the person at the core of what instigated his anger.

Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem, 1630 Rembrandt

Al divrei” doesn’t mean “about the ideas / words” among others. But rather “about” in the sense of what the speech or command was about.

And so here, Hashem is telling Yirmiyahu to inform us that everything Hashem taught us and all the mitzvos He gave us — they weren’t about the qorbanos. Qorbanos as not an end in themselves. Rather, we should listen to Hashem and walk in His Ways because Hashem wants things to be good for us.

Qorbanos are a means toward the actual thrust of Hashem’s mission for us, to walk in the path He set out before us.

And we know Chazal’s definition of “vehalakhta bidrakhav — and you shall go in His Path”. As the Rambam summarized (end of Hilkhos Dei’os 1:5, beginning of 1:6):

וּמְצֻוִּין אָנוּ לָלֶכֶת בַּדְּרָכִים הָאֵלּוּ הַבֵּינוֹנִים וְהֵם הַדְּרָכִים הַטּוֹבִים וְהַיְשָׁרִים שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים כח:ט) “וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו”: … We are commanded to walk in these middle paths [between extremes of temperament], which are the good and straight paths, even as it is said: “And thou shalt walk in His ways.” (Devarim 28:9)
כָּךְ לָמְדוּ בְּפֵרוּשׁ מִצְוָה זוֹ. מַה הוּא נִקְרָא חַנּוּן אַף אַתָּה הֱיֵה חַנּוּן. מַה הוּא נִקְרָא רַחוּם אַף אַתָּה הֱיֵה רַחוּם. מַה הוּא נִקְרָא קָדוֹשׁ אַף אַתָּה הֱיֵה קָדוֹשׁ… This is what [Chazal] taught in explaining this mitzvah: Just as He is called Gracious, you shall be gracious; just as He is called Merciful, you shall be merciful; just as He is called Holy, you shall be holy…

The pasuq is saying more than that Hashem doesn’t want qorbanos from people who don’t show concern for character or how they treat other people. Not only was Yirmiyahu yelling at those who thought they could replace ethics with ritual piety, he was telling us that the piety is about making us more ethical.

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