"Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When any one of you brings an offering to the L-RD, you shall bring your offering of the livestock -- of the herd and of the flock. (Leviticus 1:2)
We have no word in Western languages that adequately conveys the concept inherent in the Hebrew term korban (commonly rendered 'offering' or 'sacrifice'). In the sense of 'sacrifice' it has taken on the connotation of destruction, annihilation, and loss - a connotation that is foreign and antithetical to the Hebrew concept of korban.
Even the original meaning of the Latin offero, in the sense of "offering" does not correspond to korban in its full sense. For the idea of an offering implies a prior request or need on the part of the one to whom the object is offered; the purpose of the offering is to meet his request or satisfy his needs. There is no distinction between an offering, a gift, or a present. The concept of korban, however, is far removed from all of these; it is never to be understood as a gift or a present. It is found solely in the context of man's relationship to G-d, and can only be understood on the basis of the meaning of the Hebrew root korb.
The meaning of korb is in accord with its plain sense: to draw closer, to arrive at a close relationship with someone. It follows, then, that the purpose and the result of the korban is a positive attainment, the realization of a more noble existence, and that the opposite - destruction, annihilation, and loss - should not be ascribed to it. It also follows that the korban serves to meet the needs of the offerer, and not the needs of the One to Whom the korban is brought near.
The purpose of the korban is to seek G-d's nearness, which for us is the sole good (cf. Psalm 73:27) without which we feel like a beast stripped of the true calling of a human being (Psalm 73:21). In G-d's sanctuary a man will understand that closeness to G-d is the sole criterion for shaping his outlook on life and for evaluating his true happiness and contentment. In other words, the measure of one's happiness and contentment is determined by the measure of one's closeness to G-d. Any distancing from G-d brings ruin (Psalm 73:26). The good is found only in closeness to G-d; moreover, only closeness to G-d is good for man. In G-d's nearness, even suffering is sweetened and transformed into good.
Rabbi Yosei says: Wherever [Scripture] speaks of offerings [korbanot] the Divine name that begins with yod heh is used, so as not to give heretics the opportunity to degrade the truths of Judaism to the level of pagan delusion. The name Elohim is not associated with korbanot. In such a context G-d does not refer to Himself by the attribute of strict, unrelenting justice, that of G-d of retribution. G-d does not demand to be appeased through an offering, in accord with the blasphemous pagan delusion. He does not seek vengeance and thirst for blood and accept the dying animal as a substitute for the man who deserves to die.
Rather, the name yod heh vav heh, Hashem, is associated with offerings; G-d refers to Himself by the attribute of mercy in this context. He appears in the full force of His liberating love and mercy, which brings into being all of life, sustains its existence anew, and grants it a new future. In other words, the essence of a korban is not killing, but rebirth and renewal of existence. Spiritual and moral awakening and revival; entering into a life more noble and pure; renewing strength for such a life from the never-failing source of G-d's love - that is the Jewish understanding and concept of an offering.
What dies there has died long before - namely, the part that is dead in the person. What is lost there is a mere fleeting thing - but only so long as it remains far from G-d. But when brought closer to G-d, it takes its share of eternal life, finding favor before Him. The name, Hashem, associated with the offerings, the korbanot, silences the chatter of today's apostates about the so-called 'bloody, sacrificial cult.' Their intention is to denigrate "Mosaic" Judaism from its ideal eternal heights, in order to recast the truth of G-d's Word as paganistic drivel, now obsolete.
With that, we render thanks to the One Who so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son into the world as the ultimate and all-sufficient korban, that whosoever would put their trust in Him would not remain far from Him and perish, but draw near to Him and have eternal life.
Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch