13 – Korbanot – The Passages of the Sacrificial Offerings

01 – Is It an Obligation to Recite the Korbanot Passages?

Every morning before prayer, we have the custom to recite the passage of the Tamid offering. However, Chazal did not officially institute this practice, and therefore, its recital is not considered to be an absolute obligation. Still, the recital of the Tamid passage is based on Chazal’s words in the Talmud (as will be clarified further). Moreover, the Chachamim established the time of the Shacharit prayer to correspond to the morning Tamid offering. Therefore, Jews have been accustomed to recite the Tamid section every day and its recital eventually became obligatory.

Likewise, it is correct to recite the passage of the Ketoret (incense) every day before prayer, for it too, was brought daily. The Zohar (Vayakhel 218:2) emphasizes the great benefits from its daily recital. Hence, it is proper that even one who is in a hurry says the passage of the Tamid offering and the verses of the Ketoret.

The remaining paragraphs and prayers printed as part of the Korbanot passages are important as well; however, their recital is not obligatory.[1]

When someone does not have time to say the Tamid paragraph, the verses of the Ketoret, and all of Pesukei d’Zimrah, it is best that he omit Psalm 30 (“Mizmor Shir Chanukat HaBayit L’David,” and Sephardim begin “Aromimcha Hashem”) so that he can recite them. If time does not allow him, he should also omit Hodu LaHashem. It is even permissible to skip Vayevarech David, Az Yashir, and Yehi Chevod in order to recite the paragraph of the Tamid offering and the verses of the Ketoret. This is because the foundation for the recital of the Tamid passage and verses of the Ketoret is in the Talmud, whereas the other passages were added to Pesukei d’Zimrah by the Savora’im and Geonim. However, one may not skip the main parts of Pesukei d’Zimrah, meaning Baruch She’amar, Ashrei through the end of the Halleluyot, and Yishtabach, in order to say the verses of the Korbanot, since those main parts of Pesukei d’Zimrah are obligatory. Those passages are so important that the Chachamim even instituted saying blessings upon their recital.[2]


[1]. After writing that it is best to recite the passages of the Korbanot, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9 writes, “Nevertheless, whoever is capable of understanding and learning need not recite even the passages of Korbanot every day, rather from time to time it is enough to say the paragraph Eizehu Mekoman… If a person knows that an action that he did requires him to bring a certain offering, such as an Olah for the nullification of a positive commandment, or for sinful thoughts of the heart concerning a negative commandment, or a Todah for the four [people] who need to give thanks, he should say the passage of that particular offering immediately when he is obligated to offer one.” However, concerning the Tamid offering in section 48:1 he writes, “All of Israel became accustomed and took it upon themselves as an obligation to recite the passage of the Tamid daily… and it is good to recite the passage of the Ketoret as well… There are those who are accustomed to recite the paragraph, ‘Abayei listed the order of the altar service…’ and Ribon HaOlamim…” There he refers to the custom that the congregation only recites the Tamid passage. This distinction can also be inferred from the Shulchan Aruch because in section 48 it is implied that everyone says the Tamid passage, whereas concerning the Akeidah and the remaining korbanot, he writes (1:5), “It is good to recite it.” Regarding the paragraph of the Kiyor (laver) and the Terumat HaDeshen (passage concerning the removal of ashes printed in Ashkenazic siddurim) and the Ketoret, he writes in section 1:9, “There are those who are accustomed to recite it.” This is also what is implied from the Mishnah Berurah 1:17 where he rules that a mourner does not recite the Korbanot passages. Similarly, on Tishah B’Av (554:7 and 559:20) he says the passage of the Tamid offering but not the other Korbanot. Although according to the Shulchan Aruch 554:4 all the Korbanot are recited, as the Sephardim practice, nevertheless, we learned that only the recital of the Tamid is obligatory in contrast to the recital of the remaining Korbanot.

[2]The source for the recital of the berachot before and after Pesukei d’Zimrah is in the enactment of Anshei Knesset HaGedolah or the Tanna’im (see further in this book, chapter 14, note 1), and they were instituted to be said on the praise we give Hashem. The most important praise is the Psalm “Tehillah L’David” (Ashrei), as explained in Berachot 4b, and next are all the Halleluyot, which continue until the end of Psalms, as clarified in Shabbat 118b, according to the interpretation of the Rif and the Rosh. The source for the recital of the Tamid passage is in the Gemara in Ta’anit 27b and in Megillah 31b. However, it is not mentioned there as an obligation or even as a daily custom, and no berachah is recited upon it. Therefore, the main parts of Pesukei d’Zimrah precede the Tamid passage in order of importance.The first Psalm that may be skipped is Mizmor Shir Chanukat HaBayit (Sephardim begin from Aromimcha), because its recital only began approximately 300 years ago as a continuation of the recital of the Tamid. If one must skip more, he should skip Hodu LaHashem, since the basis for its recital lies in the custom to recite it when the Tamid offering was brought in the Temple, and therefore it was customary to recite it after reciting the passage of the Tamid. If so, certainly the recital of the Tamid is more important than the recital of Hodu. Yehi Chevod, Vayevarech David, and Az Yashir are additions from the time of the Savora’im and Geonim, and therefore it seems that the recital of the Tamid, whose source is in the Talmud, is more important than their recital. There is a difference in importance between the passage of the Tamid and that of the Ketoret. See Mishnah Berurah 554:7, who rules that on Tishah B’Av, Pitum HaKetoret  is not recited, for it is not part of the prayers of that day, but the Tamid passage is recited. (Although according to Kaf HaChaim 559:48 it is recited, still, we learn from the Mishnah Berurah that there is a difference in their levels of importance). Just like the Tamid, where only the verses are recited, regarding the Ketoret too, it is permissible in times of need to fulfill the obligation of its recital with verses alone, and one can suffice with reciting Chazal’s additions on the Ketoret at the end of the prayer service (see further in this book, 23:5, note 5).

02 – The Reason for the Recital of the Korbanot and the Different Stages of Prayer

The korbanot express the absolute connection between the Jewish people and our Father in Heaven. This is a connection of such strong yearning for the Source of Life, for absolute perfection, that one is willing to surrender everything to Hashem, even life itself. At times, this desire intensifies when a person feels the acute contrast between his pure soul and his body, which possesses urges that pull him down towards vileness and sin. In order to attain atonement for his soul, he wishes to devote his soul to the sanctification of Heaven and to sacrifice himself to Hashem. However, HaKadosh Baruch Hu created man so that he may live and be an active partner in the rectification of the world (tikun olam), and therefore those feelings of longing for absolute devotion to God are expressed through the korbanot. Instead of a person sacrificing himself, he offers his animal, just as Avraham Avinu was ready to fulfill the will of the Creator and sacrifice Yitzchak, his only son, to Hashem, until Hashem commanded him to sacrifice the ram in his place.

There are four stages in the prayer service and the passages of the Korbanot are the first stage. As a result of one’s sleep, a person is submerged in his corporeality, and in order to be able to stand before Hashem in prayer, he must first awaken and sacrifice his soul to the Master of the Universe by reciting Korbanot. Subsequently, he can purify his soul through Pesukei d’Zimrah with songs and praises to Hashem. From there, he can accept upon himself the yoke of Heaven in Keriat Shema and its berachot. Finally, he is able to rise to the highest level of prayer within when he stands before the Master of the Universe in the Amidah, and praises, pleads, and gives thanks. By praying in that manner, blessing is bestowed upon the world in abundance.

The Kabbalah explains that the four stages of prayer correspond to four worlds (or realms), and that during the course of the prayer service, we ascend from the lowest world to the highest. The Korbanot correspond to the world of action (asiyah), Pesukei d’Zimrah correspond to the world of formation (yetzirah), Birkot Keriat Shema to the world of creation (beriah), and the Amidah to the highest world, the world of emanation (atzilut).

The service of Hashem begins with a person’s complete acceptance upon himself that Hashem is God, and that there is no value to materialism and to life in this world as long as it remains separate from the service of Hashem. The bringing of korbanot expresses in the most concrete manner the nullification of materialism and life in this world before Hashem. Therefore, the recital of Korbanot corresponds to the world of action, because in that world all great concepts are realized in a practical and tangible manner.

Afterwards, we say Pesukei d’Zimrah, which correspond to the world of formation. Following the surrender of materialism, a person’s spirit is released from its chains. It is then able to reflect upon the wonders of creation and to sing and praise Hashem.

From the spiritual ascent of Pesukei d’Zimrah, we are able to recognize that the world is God’s creation, and to accept upon ourselves the complete yoke of Heaven. In the Korbanot, we do not entirely realize the fundamentals of faith; we only express our willingness to forgo everything for the sake of our belief. However, after the Korbanot and Pesukei d’Zimrah, we can elevate ourselves to complete faith in Hashem, as is set forth in Keriat Shema and expanded upon in its berachot. This stage corresponds to the world of creation, in which we comprehend the root of all things.

From there, we rise to the highest level, the world of emanation, in which we are totally devoted to the Master of the Universe and completely identify with the Divine ideals. Before this, we stood before Him, sacrificed ourselves to Him, sang songs and praises to Him, and took upon ourselves the yoke of His Kingdom. Now, in the Amidah prayer, we are entirely devoted to Him and identify with His will to reveal His Name in the world. Consequently, we bless Him and pray that He bestow His abundant blessings upon the world.

After that, we descend in the order of the worlds. The Tachanun prayer still corresponds to the world of emanation. In Ashrei and U’va L’Tzion, we bring the influence of prayer down to the world of creation; after that, in Shir Shel Yom, to the world of formation, and in Pitum HaKetoret, to the world of action (see Kaf HaChaim 48:1, s.v. “V’da Hakdamah”).

03 – The Source for the Recital of the Korbanot

The Chachamim teach (Ta’anit 27b and Megillah 31b) that when Hashem entered a covenant with Avraham Avinu and promised him that he and his children would inherit the Land of Israel, Avraham asked HaKadosh Baruch Hu, “Master of the Universe, perhaps, Heaven forbid, the nation of Israel will sin before You, and You will do to them as You did to the generation of the flood and the generation of the dispersion?” Hashem answered, “I will not do that to them.” Avraham said, “How will I know that You will not destroy their name?” Hashem responded, “Bring me three calves…”  By that, He hinted to him that the institution of the korbanot will be witness to the eternal connection between Israel and Hashem. Therefore, even if sins should be found within the Jewish nation, it is only because of external influences – in their core the Jewish people are righteous and are all connected to Hashem. Therefore, by the offering of korbanot, an act which expresses Israel’s absolute devotion to Hashem, their sins will be atoned.

Avraham Avinu said before Him, “Master of the Universe, and what will be when the Temple will be destroyed; how will their sins be atoned?” HaKadosh Baruch Hu answered, “I have already instituted the Korbanot passages for them. Every time they recite them, I will consider it as if they are bringing an offering before Me, and I will forgive them for all their sins.”

Further, the Chachamim say that anyone who engages himself in the laws of the Chatat (sin) offering, it is as if he offered a Chatat; and anyone who engrosses himself in the laws of the Asham (guilt) offering, it is as if he offered an Asham. Likewise, when one engages himself in the laws of any of the korbanot, it is as if he brought those offerings (Menachot 110a).

The idea behind this is that every deed performed in the world possesses an inner soul. The soul of a mitzvah is the words of Torah that discuss that mitzvah. These ideas especially pertain to the korbanot, for the essence of the korbanot is to express our connection to Hashem. Therefore, when one cannot actually bring the offerings, the study of them is considered a substitute for their sacrifice (see also Maharal, Gevurot Hashem, chapter 8).

04 – The Korbanot Passages

We open the section of the Korbanot with the passage of the Akeidah, describing the sacrifice of Yitzchak. The readiness of Avraham Avinu to bring his only son as an offering is the ultimate sacrifice, and this is the foundation for all the commandments involving korbanot. Further, its recital awakens our hearts to the love of Hashem and to serve Him in total devotion. Moreover, in its recital we mention the merit of our forefathers – after the Akeidah passage, we request that Hashem, in the merit of the sacrifice of Yitzchak, have mercy on us and redeem us.

After that, it is customary to recite words of inspiration in preparation for prayer and for the service of Hashem, including the first section of “Shema Yisrael.” According to the Yerushalmi, we end with the berachah, “Blessed are You Hashem, Who sanctifies Your Name among the multitudes,” and that is true for Nusach Ashkenaz. However, since this berachah is not mentioned in the Talmud Bavli, those praying in Nusach Sephard recite the blessing, “Blessed is the Sanctifier of His Name among the multitudes,” without saying Hashem’s Name.[3]

Next, we arrive at the Korbanot passages themselves. According to the Ashkenazic minhag, we first recite the paragraph of the Kiyor (laver) and the passage regarding the Terumat HaDeshen (the removal of ashes), for the Kohanim would start the work in the Temple with them every morning. Furthermore, just as the Kohanim would become purified in preparation for their work by washing their hands and feet in the Kiyor, our recital of the passage of the Kiyor in the Shacharit service purifies us in preparation for prayer.

Afterwards, according to all minhagim, the Tamid passage is recited, and we request that its recital be considered as if we are bringing a Tamid offering. Subsequently, we recite the verses of the Ketoret and we say rabbinic explanations regarding its mixture.

We then add verses of praise and recite the paragraph, “Abayei listed the order of the altar service,” which is a small summary of the work in the Temple. We then recite the poem, “Ana B’Cho’ach,” which also alludes to the sacrificing of korbanot, and we conclude with a prayer requesting that our words be considered as if we actually offered the Korban Tamid.

The Korbanot passages must be recited after amud hashachar, for that is the time to bring the offerings (Shulchan Aruch 1:6; 47:13). There are those who say that it is good to recite them while standing, following the example of the Kohanim who would stand while the sacrificial offerings were being brought (based on the Magen Avraham and see Mishnah Berurah 48:1). Nevertheless, according to most poskim, one need not stand, and that is the Sephardic minhag (Kaf HaChaim 1:33).

After that, we say the chapter, “Eizehu mekoman shel zevachim” (“What is the location of the offerings?”) (Mishnah, Zevachim chapter 5). There are two reasons for its recital. First, it explains the place of the sacrifice and the sprinkling of the blood of the korbanot, and its recital corresponds to the offering of those korbanot. Second, the Chachamim wanted every Jew to learn Scripture, Mishnah, and Talmud every day (see Kiddushin 30a). When one recites the Tamid passage, he fulfills the obligation to learn Scripture. When he recites this chapter, he fulfills the obligation of learning Mishnah. Subsequently, he recites a beraita attributed to Rabbi Yishmael concerning the thirteen methods through which the Torah is elucidated, thereby fulfilling the obligation to learn Talmud.

Although the Shulchan Aruch writes (Orach Chaim 1:5) that it is best to recite all the Korbanot passages, namely, the passage of the Olah (burnt offering), Minchah (meal offering), Shelamim (peace offering), Chatat (sin offering), and Asham (guilt offering) (from the Torah portions of Vayikra and Tzav), in actuality, it was not customary to recite them, and they were not even printed in siddurim. There are those who say that by reciting the chapter, “Eizehu mekoman,” within which all the korbanot are mentioned, one fulfills to a certain extent the learning of those matters (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9; Eshel Avraham). It is proper that every year when we arrive at the Torah-reading portions of Vayikra and Tzav we learn them well, for one who learns them is considered as if he sacrificed the offerings (Menachot 110a).


[3]The Tosafot in Pesachim 104b and Berachot 46a mention this berachah and explain that it does not begin with the word “Baruch” because it is a blessing of thanks. However, the Rambam writes it without Hashem’s Name. The Tur, Orach Chaim 46, calls it a berachah based on the Yerushalmi (although it does not appear in the wording of the Yerushalmi before us). Nusach Sephard, based on the Rambam and the Ari in Sha’ar HaKavanot, does not conclude it with Hashem’s Name. The wording of the entire prayer from the words “L’Olam Yeheh Adam” is brought in Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Rabbah chapter 21. According to Nusach Ashkenaz, it is clear that since it is a berachah, it is proper to be stringent about its recital every day.

05 – The Reason for the Tamid Offering

As we learned (in halachah 1), one should be meticulous in saying the verses of the Tamid offering and the Ketoret daily; therefore, we will somewhat clarify their subject matter.

The Tamid offering is the most important of the korbanot since it is the most constant; every day of the year it was brought, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. For that reason, it is the korban that represents the continuous connection between the nation of Israel and our Father in Heaven.

All of Israel participated in the bringing of the Tamid offering, since it was bought with the money collected from the half-shekel that every Jew, rich and poor alike, donated each year to the Temple. It therefore symbolizes the unity of Israel.

Because Israel is the heart of the nations, Hashem’s unity is expressed through the bringing of the Tamid offering, for the entire world connects to the Source of Life via that single Tamid offering (see Maharal Netiv HaAvodah 1).

The course of life consists of birth, development, and eventually death. Every day, people die, some due to old age, others as a result of accidents or diseases. In the animal kingdom as well, myriads of living creatures die daily. The same holds true for plant life; every day millions of trees, bushes, and flowers wither and wilt. The big question is: what is the significance of this whole process? Is this an inconsequential cycle of life and death, lacking purpose and meaning? Or perhaps there is a general direction towards which all life aspires? An answer to this question lies in the Korban Tamid. The entire world strives towards elevation and perfection. Part of this elevation is accomplished through growth and development; another part is achieved through death. This cessation of physical life is not for naught. In actuality, it is a sacrificial offering, which expresses the endeavor towards perfection. Because it is impossible in this world to achieve perfection, after completing all the possible actions and feasible elevations, one’s spirit continues to yearn for ascent but his body ages, his vessel becomes worn out, and his spirit detaches from his body and rises, returning to its origin. That is why the Kohanim would bring the Tamid offering in the most sacred place in the world, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This korban was representative of all physical life that had ceased to exist in this world on that day. The bringing of the Korban Tamid gave that life meaning, the significance being its return to its origin and its spiritual ascent as a pleasing fragrance to God (see Maharal Netiv HaAvodah 1).

06 – The Reason for the Ketoret

Just as the Tamid offering was brought daily, the Ketoret (incense) was also brought every day, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. The Korban Tamid expresses Israel’s connection to Hashem, and the bond that all worldly creations have to their source of life. Therefore its organs were offered on the exterior altar, visible to all. However, the Ketoret gives expression to the deep inner connection between Israel and Hashem, and therefore it was offered on the interior altar inside the Temple. The Tamid offering connects all creations in their material and tangible components to Hashem. For that reason, the essence of the offering was the blood thrown on the altar and the organs offered upon it. The Korban HaKetoret, on the other hand, is the quintessential spiritual offering, epitomized by the incomparably pleasing scent that emanates from the spices of the incense.

Through the Ketoret, a sublime spiritual light appears in the world which illuminates the inner souls of all creations and connects everything to holiness. Therefore, it was made out of spices that exude a pleasant scent, for smell is the most refined and spiritual pleasure there is in the world. The scent extends in all directions, to hint that all creations are influenced by an inner spiritual illumination that elevates them and binds them to holiness (Olat Ra’ayah p. 135).

There were eleven spices in the Ketoret, all grounded thoroughly together so that they would be united completely, producing a favorable scent. Similarly, by unifying all powers completely for the sake of holiness, the world is uplifted and repaired.

One of the primary spices in the incense is the chelbenah (galbanum), which alludes to the sinners of Israel, who, in their roots, are equally connected to the sanctity of Israel. The chelbenah had a particularly foul aroma. However, blended with the special mixture of the Ketoret, its odor would transform to good; instead of ruining the fragrance of the Ketoret, the addition of the chelbenah would make the smell of the Ketoret even more praiseworthy. This comes to teach us that when all the forces of Israel unite for the sake of a sanctified goal, the inner merit of the sinners of Israel is revealed, and they too join to aid in the rectification of the Jewish nation and the world (see Olat Ra’ayah, part 1, pp. 136-138).