The second verse of our parasha presents the commandment to offer a korban olah, a completely burnt offering, in the Mishkan and later the Beit Hamikdash: “Command (tzav) Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the burnt offering: That is the burnt offering which burns on the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar shall burn with it’” (Vayikra 6:1).
Rashi, basing himself upon the Sifra, the halachic Midrash to Vayikra, explains the word “tzav” in this manner: “The expression tzav always denotes urging [to promptly and meticulously fulfill a particular commandment] for the present (miyad), and also for future generations (v’ledorot).”
The word “miyad” makes perfectly good sense in this context, since our verse is the source of the obligation to bring a korban olah — something that was possible for Aharon and his sons, and during the period of time we were blessed with the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash. The term “v’ledorot,” however, seems problematic, since we have not had a Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash for nearly 2,000 years, and we have, therefore, been prohibited from offering the korban olah.
My rebbe and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l, expanded upon our question as follows:
“What is the meaning of the word ledoros (for future generations) in this context? The mitzvos of mezuzah, tefillin and Shabbos are clearly ledoros. Thousands of years have gone by, and these mitzvos are observed as they had been when they were originally given. But in what way are the mitzvos of the Mishkan practiced today? There has been no korban tamid [daily offering] for almost two thousand years! In what sense does the mitzvah of offering korbanos continue?” (Vayikra, Chumash Mesoras HaRav)
The Rav answered our question based upon a narrative passage in Talmud Bavli, Megillah 31b that presents a fascinating dialogue between Hashem and Avraham:
“Avraham asked how he was to know that G-d would not forsake Israel if they sinned. G-d answered, ‘In the merit of the [Temple] sacrifices.’ Avraham insisted that this merit was fine when these sacrifices are in existence, but what was to happen after the destruction of the Temple? G-d replied that if the Children of Israel learned the laws surrounding the sacrifices, He would consider their study as a virtual sacrificial offering. When we cannot offer sacrifices, we recite the halachos [laws] pertaining to them as a substitute.”
In sum, our study of the laws concerning the sacrifices that are found throughout rabbinic literature enables us to bring “virtual sacrificial offerings,” and thereby fulfill these laws in a substitute manner.
At this juncture, the Rav extends the notion of that which is virtual to include the Beit HaMikdash itself:
“There is a Mikdash in our days as well — not physically, but through halachic study. This is the mesorah [the passing down from each generation to the next] of Torah Sheb’al Peh, the Oral Law. Today, we read Parashas Shekalim as if the Beis Hamikdash was still standing; it is ledoros. Parashas Parah reminds us to be ritually pure so that we may bring the korban pesach [Passover offering]. Although we no longer offer a korban pesach, we read Parashas Parah as if the Beis Hamikdash still exists” (brackets my own).
Two thousand years is a long time to wait and hope for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash. Yet, it is a dream that remains indelibly engraved in our minds, and inspires us to say three times daily, “Return in mercy to Jerusalem Your city and dwell therein as You have promised … rebuild it, soon in our days, as an everlasting edifice. Blessed are You, L-rd, who rebuilds Jerusalem.”
With Hashem’s help and mercy, may we once again merit to bring korbanot in the Beit HaMikdash, soon and in our days, v’ledorot — and for all generations to come!