Imagine taking something that is precious to you, giving it away of your own free will and volition, and watching it go up in smoke. By the end, your prized possession is nothing but a pile of ashes, soon to be swept away so that the next person’s prized possession can be burned in its place.
That, my friends, is the Biblical notion of korban olah, the sacrificial burnt offering, which we read about in this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra. The owner doesn’t get a slice of the meat; not even the kohen gets to taste any of it. This korban is entirely for God.
How difficult it must have been for the ancients to part with something so dear (and expensive–the Hebrew wordyakar has both meanings). Yet instead of fostering bitterness at having to make such a sacrifice, creating distance between the worshiper and God, the Torah suggests that this act brings one closer–karov–to God, fostering love.
Of course, in the absence of the Temple, the system ofkorbanot is not longer a part of Jewish ritual. Maybe that’s just as well. It’s not easy being asked to give up something we love so permanently. so completely. Maybe, then, there’s another way to envision korban, sacrifice, as symbolic of Jewish commitment in our era. What does korban, sacrifice, mean to you?
On Shabbat morning, I’ll explore this idea further by reflecting on three sites I saw on our recent Israel trip, in connection with three major figures in Jewish religious history: Abraham, Rabbi Akiva, and Elijah.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise