“I did not speak with your forefathers nor did I command them on the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Jeremiah 7:22)
How could the prophet Jeremiah say such a thing, when the book of Leviticus is filled with the laws of korbanot and Temple offerings?
The Sneaky Contractor
Jacob decided to build a new home, and found a contractor who was willing to take on the project. Jacob and the contractor drew up a basic contract which set down the cost and schedule for building the house.
Jacob then completed a detailed document of many pages, specifying the exact type of materials to be used for constructing the house – the size and quality of windows and doors, the style and color of ceramic floor tiles, measurements and type of wood for the kitchen cabinets, and so on.
The contractor began collecting all of the materials needed for building the house, until everything was ready to start the actual construction.
But then he had a devious thought – did he need to actually build the house? After all, the contract only detailed everything that went into the house – and that he had already provided!
The contractor approached Jacob and said: “Here, I have fulfilled everything in the contract. You have here all of your drywall, doors, windows, tiles, cabinets, and so on. If you want, you can now go ahead and put together your house.”
“You scoundrel!” cried Jacob. “You may have produced all the materials mentioned in the specifications document. But what about the basic contract which you signed, where you promised to build a house?”
The Basic Contract from Egypt
When the Jewish people were still in Egypt, God commanded Moses in a general fashion: “When you take the people from Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain” (Exod. 3). Afterwards, when the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai, God provided a Torah with a detailed description of each aspect of this service.
If a person performs all of the particulars of this service of God, but his intention is only for his own benefit – such a person has fulfilled the detailed contact from Sinai, but has ignored the overall command that God told Moses in Egypt, “You shall serve God.” He is like the contractor who only took into account the specifications document, and ignored the original contract.
This is precisely the intent of the prophet - don't be content with a superficial observance of the rituals of serving God:
“I did not speak with your forefathers nor did I command them on the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them: Obey Me, so that I am your God and you are My people.”(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 189-190)