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Korban – lost in translation

Written by d fine

Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch comments that, as with many Torah words we have translated into other languages, the word korban has fallen prey to a nefarious mistranslation. We tend to translate the word korban as ‘sacrifice,’ implying some form of negative, depressive cutting away of ourselves. There is some truth to this idea, but only inasmuch as that korbanos serve to remove the yetzer hara and animalistic, base side which take us away from who we really are (see Sefer HaChinuch mitzvah 95). Thus, the Sforno (1:2) explains that the words adam ki yakriv mi’kem can/should be read to mean that in offering korbanos, we are to have the requisite humility in cutting away part of our lower selves and our ego. But this is not all that a korban is. The correct translation, says Rav Hirsch, is that korban comes from the word karev, meaning to come close. Thus, the true meaning of the word (and thus its essence) ‘korban’ is that it brings us closer to HaShem. Yes, sometimes we might have to hold ourselves back from doing things we should not do, as well as doing away with the lower parts of our personalities, but the ultimate aim and goal is becoming close to HaShem. It is perhaps symptomatic of many people’s unfavourable outlook on mitzvos that we have managed to turn a positive and joyous religious concept into having connotations of negativity and bother.

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