Voices – Parashah Vayikra

March 18, 2021Susan C. Bass WRJ Immediate Past President

I love baseball. I am an unabashed baseball fan and have been since attending my first Atlanta Braves baseball game at the age of nine. I am willing to watch baseball at any level – from the Little League World Series to the College World Series to, well, THE World Series. It took a little while for my 10-year-old brain to understand why a batter would intentionally lay down a bunt (a sacrifice) to advance a runner, or why a fly ball was called a sacrifice, just because a runner went to the next base (or scored a run).

After all, a sacrifice is something important or precious that is given up for the sake of gaining something or allowing something to happen that is considered more important. Vayikra, this week’s Torah portion, opens Leviticus with a brain-numbing account of sacrifices that the Israelites were required to bring to the Temple to be forgiven by G-d for a sin or transgression, whether done knowingly or unknowingly. Those who brought animals or grain to be burnt as a sacrifice considered forgiveness to be more important than what they offered to the priests for incineration.

Rabbi Matityahu Clark suggests that translating the Hebrew word korban as “sacrifice” misses the true meaning. He says that the real purpose of korban is self-improvement. After all, does G-d really need to receive sacrifices or gifts from those who seek a relationship or forgiveness? Rather, he explains that korban is used as a tool to help the individual establish a personal closeness to the Divine that is itself an uplifting experience. In doing so, the person bringing the korban is elevated from the status of a creature existing purely in the physical or profane world to a higher spiritual plane. Thus, the goal of the procedure is not to benefit the One, but to benefit the one who brings the korban. In attaining a higher spiritual plane, perhaps a person draws closer to the Divine.

We don’t do burnt offerings anymore – that practice ended about 2000 years ago. So then, what DO we offer to draw closer to G-d? For starters, we offer prayers. We recite words of praise; we ask for guidance, healing, and, yes, for forgiveness. Maybe the notion of korban as a way to draw closer to the One while working to make ourselves better is not so far off the mark. The essence of sacrifice, said R. Shneor Zalman, “is that we offer ourselves. We bring to G-d our faculties, our energies, our thoughts, and emotions. The physical form of sacrifice –an animal offered on the altar – is only an external manifestation of an inner act.” Thus, the real sacrifice is of ourselves. This is what we give to G-d.

We are all betzelem Elohim, made in the image of the Divine. We have the power to become the people we are meant to be. When we use our energy and talents, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds, we are offering ourselves. By doing this, we can create a kinder home for G-d and G-d’s creatures in this world.

Acts of gemilut hasadim, loving kindness, include volunteering or going out of one’s way to do for others. One may not see it as a sacrifice, rather something that is done for the common good. Much like the baseball player who lays down the perfect bunt. It’s not ideal, but in the grander scheme, it helps the team.

Ken y’hei ratzon, may it be G-d’s will.

Related Posts

Parashat Yom Rishon shel Rosh HaShanah

During the High Holidays, my thoughts turn to the special blessings, prayers, and melodies that shape our journey from Selichot to Rosh HaShanah to the final shofar blast on Yom Kippur. Many of our prayers in the High Holiday liturgy are written in the plural.