Rabbi Mosheh Chayim Luzzatto (1700-1740) a classically educated “Orthodox” rabbi and Kabbalist, was also well-educated in secular arts and sciences. From his Humanistic environment in 18th-century Italy, he brought a special concern for style to the writing of Hebrew prose.  He’s regarded as the “father” of modern Hebrew letters. Among his books, “The Path of the Upright” (“Messilat Yesharim“) has been recognized for over 250 years as a spiritual manual based on authentic Jewish traditional teachings. His words on “Holiness” — the ultimate goal of the spiritual path — will bring our discussion of “Korbanot” full-circle.

     I began this series on the “Korbanot” by trying to show a connection between Adam & Havah’s awareness of G-d (“walking with G-d” in the Garden of Eden, as others after them are said to have done — Chanoch/Enoch and Noach/Noah, for example) and the Divine Light, as described in Torah, Talmud and Midrash, and the performance of a Korban as a means to return our own awareness to its “natural,” Divinely intended condition.

     I then gave an overview of different types of korbanot and how they were done, with specific reference to the role of the design of the Mishkan, in order to give the actual details or performance equal weight with their spiritual interpretations.

     I invoked Maimonides’ teaching that a proper understanding of the word “korban” shows us that we don’t “draw near” to G-d in any physical way, but in a spiritual one — otherwise described as the “knowledge” of G-d.

     I then suggested that the rabbis had composed the Amidah as a guide to help us combine the literal steps of a korban with a change in our thinking and perception. At the same time, the Amidah shows us the ideal of how a “korban” was performed cognitively.

     In this final post, I invoke a teaching of the “Ramchal” — Rabbi Mosheh Chayim Luzzatto — to show that not only can the “korban” (especially as combined with the Amidah) lift us to what human consciousness should be (as exemplified by Adam & Havah in Eden); it gives us a glimpse and model of the ultimate goal of our spiritual growth.

     Describing a life lived on the level of Holiness, Rabbi Luzzatto equates it with being in a perpetual state of offering a “Korban:”

“If one sanctifies himself [or herself] with the Holiness of his Creator, even his physical actions come to partake of Holiness. This is illustrated by the eating of the sacrificial offerings…in relation to which our Sages…said, ‘The priests eat and the owners are atoned for’ (Pesachim 59b).” [1]

     The trait of “Holiness,” the final stage of those on which Luzzatto commented, is the goal of them all.

First, the Ramchal describes the cognitive experience. Although he doesn’t mention Adam and Havah explicitly, what he’s describing is reminiscent of what Torah says about them, too:

     “One who is Holy…such a person is as one walking before G-d in the land of the living [i.e. as did Adam and Havah, before eating the prohibited fruit!] here in this world.” [2]

     This can resemble our experience in worship, but is distinguished in two ways:
1 — The experience isn’t limited to times of worship, prayer or meditation alone.
2 — It’s a permanent, rather than an intermittent, experience.

     Rabbi Luzzatto not only descibes “Holinesss” as a state of perpetual worship (even while we’re involved in the most mundane activities), he goes even further — equating the “holy person” with the Mishkan/Temple, even the altar itself.

     “Such a person is himself [or herself] considered a tabernacle, a sanctuary, an altar. [3]

     “The Divine Presence dwells with the Holy as it did in the [Mishkan and] Temple.” [4]

     All of the activities of such a person — even the most mundane — are like Korbanot:

     “…the food and drink of the Holy person is elevated and is considered as if it had actually been sacrificed upon the altar [in the Mishkan/Temple].” [5]

     We can see, then, that the “Gan Eden” narrative is more than a fanciful “history.” It’s a statement of what human life should be.

     Torah acknowledges that people have devolved from that level, but offers hope that we can return. The Mishkan/Temple(s) were given to us as the model for what life should be, and as a means to return to that level. In this regard, we could even regard each mitzvah in Torah (and it’s expression in halachah) as a “korban” that we perform.

     The ultimate goal, though, is a constant state of personal and spiritual growth, culminating in a state of “Holiness” — the true return to the Garden of Eden. This, as Rabbi Luzzatto says, is, in the end, a “gift” of G-d for us, after we’ve made our own efforts. One could conceivably argue that “Holiness” can even precede the forms of religious observance (as Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korchah says in the Talmud: “One must first accept on oneself the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven, and then accept on oneself the yoke of the mitzvot”).  A full, mature spirituality will include both.

     Taken this way, Torah is the story of tragic human failing, followed by the promise of forgiveness and a return to the highest and best that we — all people — can be.


[1] Luzzatto, Rabbi Mosheh Chayim; The Path of the Just; Shraga Silverstien, trans.; Feldheim Publishers, 1966; p. 329
[2] ibid.
[3] ibid.
[4] p. 331
[5] ibid.