Q. Why do we still pray for the restoration of sacrifices when the prophets criticise sacrifice so much?
A. The question has been debated from ancient times onwards. One side points to the many passages in the Torah, especially in Vayikra, that spell out the procedures of the sacrificial ritual. The other quotes the First Book of Samuel (15:22): “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams”. Or Isaiah (1:11): “What use to Me are your many sacrifices? I am sated with the burnt offerings of rams!” Or Amos (5:22): “Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them”.
However, the prophetic statements must not be taken out of context. God is not depicted as rejecting the sacrifices in principle. He is criticizing sacrifices brought in the wrong spirit. Samuel’s argument is that Saul who combines disobedience to God with bringing a sacrifice is a hypocrite. Isaiah sees no value in a sinner bringing a sacrifice without doing penitence. Amos is troubled by a person who puts his faith in burnt offerings without living a life of justice and righteousness.
People ask whether in time to come God will again require sacrifices. Has not humanity learned a more refined method of worship?
Maimonides addresses the subject in his Guide for the Perplexed (book 3, chapter 32) and suggests that God wished to wean human beings away from the wilder kind of offerings in order to train them to understand what really mattered in religion. But Rav Kook feels we should impose a moratorium on the discussion until it becomes a practical issue, and then leave it to God to reveal His will.