When you read the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, there is an idea that repeats a few times - the preference of the moral over the ritual. This idea started with Amos in the 8th century B.C.E. Amos was a prophet that came from Judah to the Northern Kingdom to deliver the word of G-d. There was a common thought among the Israelites that if they will come to the temple and sacrifice to G-d, they will not have to be moral, they didn't have to treat the poor people, as we can see in Amos 5:21-25-
" שָׂנֵאתִי מָאַסְתִּי, חַגֵּיכֶם; וְלֹא אָרִיחַ, בְּעַצְּרֹתֵיכֶם. כִּי אִם-תַּעֲלוּ-לִי עֹלוֹת וּמִנְחֹתֵיכֶם, לֹא אֶרְצֶה; וְשֶׁלֶם מְרִיאֵיכֶם, לֹא אַבִּיט. הָסֵר מֵעָלַי, הֲמוֹן שִׁרֶיךָ; וְזִמְרַת נְבָלֶיךָ, לֹא אֶשְׁמָע. וְיִגַּל כַּמַּיִם, מִשְׁפָּט; וּצְדָקָה, כְּנַחַל אֵיתָן. הַזְּבָחִים וּמִנְחָה הִגַּשְׁתֶּם-לִי בַמִּדְבָּר, אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה--בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל"
"I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? "
G-d told the Israelites through Amos, that he despises this way of thought. He didn't want the offerings, he didn't want the beasts. He just wanted the justice, the righteousness, the judgment like the water of the river that flows all the year. The water of this river must be pure inside and outside as the people of Israel should be.
The next prophet that dealt with the subject mentioned was Micah, who used a different approach with the same people. Micah created a fake trial with the help of the nature in order to show the Israelites that their sins are everywhere. As a Biblical Hebrew teacher, this passage is one of my favorites and I always say to my students that the words in Micah 6:1-8 are poetry, as written:
" שִׁמְעוּ-נָא, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֹמֵר: קוּם רִיב אֶת-הֶהָרִים, וְתִשְׁמַעְנָה הַגְּבָעוֹת קוֹלֶךָ. שִׁמְעוּ הָרִים אֶת-רִיב יְהוָה, וְהָאֵתָנִים מוֹסְדֵי אָרֶץ: כִּי רִיב לַיהוָה עִם-עַמּוֹ, וְעִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל יִתְוַכָּח. עַמִּי מֶה-עָשִׂיתִי לְךָ, וּמָה הֶלְאֵתִיךָ: עֲנֵה בִי. כִּי הֶעֱלִתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וּמִבֵּית עֲבָדִים פְּדִיתִיךָ; וָאֶשְׁלַח לְפָנֶיךָ, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה אַהֲרֹן וּמִרְיָם. עַמִּי, זְכָר-נָא מַה-יָּעַץ בָּלָק מֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב, וּמֶה-עָנָה אֹתוֹ, בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר--מִן-הַשִּׁטִּים, עַד-הַגִּלְגָּל, לְמַעַן, דַּעַת צִדְקוֹת יְהוָה. בַּמָּה אֲקַדֵּם יְהוָה, אִכַּף לֵאלֹהֵי מָרוֹם; הַאֲקַדְּמֶנּוּ בְעוֹלוֹת, בַּעֲגָלִים בְּנֵי שָׁנָה. הֲיִרְצֶה יְהוָה בְּאַלְפֵי אֵילִים, בְּרִבְבוֹת נַחֲלֵי-שָׁמֶן; הַאֶתֵּן בְּכוֹרִי פִּשְׁעִי, פְּרִי בִטְנִי חַטַּאת נַפְשִׁי. הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם, מַה-טּוֹב; וּמָה-יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ, כִּי אִם-עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד, וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת, עִם-אֱלֹהֶיךָ"
"Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear you, O mountains, the LORD's controversy, and you strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel. O my people, what have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me. For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the LORD. Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
The last verse ends with a question mark as we can see in King James Version, but also with an important statement- you must be human with other people before you sacrifice and think that you are forgiven or even worse- that G-d loves this hypocrisy.
Another prophet that shares the same idea is Isaiah. If you want to hear his words you can listen to the record of the webinar that took place on 1/12/11. Don't forget to enjoy the Biblical Hebrew and the words of the prophets, have a great week, Eli