Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayikra

Sacrifice – to give up the personal ownership or enjoyment of something personal for a greater (sacred) ideal. Biblically, the literal text speaks of an offering on an altar, ostensibly to God. This week, in opening the Book of Leviticus, we meet the Tabernacle’s sacrificial cult. We read about the different “sacrifices” that God instructs us to bring to the altar. Actually, “Instruct” is a challenging term. As written, the text tells us that the bringing of offerings is conditional. “Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When (If) any of you presents an offering of cattle to God … (Lev. 1:2)” We will read later, “At your will shall you sacrifice it. (Lev 19:5).”

God only suggests that bringing our offerings is a showing of love and devotion. Devotion to whom? God does not need us to provide food. The food of the offering is for the priests and the poor to eat. From Midrash Aggadah, Terumah, the Rabbis impute to God, “The Holy and Blessed One replied: ‘They who are flesh and blood need all this, but I do not need it. I do not need food or drink, and I do not require any light.” Psalm 50 affirms, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, as are the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains; the wild beasts of the field are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine and the fullness thereof.”

God wants us to make sure we provide for each other. The purpose of the offering is to show our connection to – our devotion to the community. That said, the question one must ask, “If the purpose of the sacrifice is to take care of the community, why are they optional?”

Talmud teaches us that even as to the strictest of Halachah (ritual “rules”), one is not allowed to say, “I must …” or “I cannot …” For every decision in faith, we must make informed choices. “I choose to …” or “I choose not to …” Serving God out of obligation betrays the belief that God is the source of all freedom. We choose to bring offerings to the altar. We choose to give up something of value to demonstrate our commitment and devotion to a greater, more sacred, ideal: each other. It does not even matter how valuable the gift is, so long as it is the best that the heart can give. The Talmud teaches us “It is said of a large ox, ‘An offering made by fire of a sweet savor’; of a small bird, ‘An offering made by fire of a sweet savor’; and of a meal-offering, ‘An offering made by fire of a sweet savor’: to teach you that it is the same whether one offers much or little, so long as he directs his heart to heaven. (Menachot 110a:18-21),”

Of course, we no longer bring animals to an altar. However, we still should always bring our best to the altar of service, or as tradition teaches, true faith and appreciation begin when one is willing to sacrifice one’s loyalty on the altar of love. No one can legislate love. One must find it within one’s self. It exists in each of us. Everyone has faith in a relationship with someone so deeply rooted that his/her wellbeing rests in the fiber of our souls. It is this love that must drive us to serve our community – to offer our sacrifices on the altar. Especially in the current status of a world quarantined and separated, we need to love deeply and show up for each other, for everyone in need – and – everyone needs each other’s humanity. Shabbat Shalom.