Parshat Vayikra

Torah Reading for Week of March 10-16,2013


“Korbonot and Closeness: the Offering of Oneself”
By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, ‘07


How do we fulfill our yearning for closeness with divine energy? How do we establish our relationship with G-d? How do we ask for forgiveness for our behaviors? How do we thank and praise G-d? There was a time when we offered animal sacrifices to express ourselves—at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now we offer prayers. Or perhaps, we offer silence, the result of not knowing how to sacrifice or pray anymore.

The word for sacrifice in Hebrew is korbon which shares the root of the word for becoming close, so inherent in the act of sacrifice is the kavannah/ the intention of becoming closer to G-d. In the Chabad Hasidic tradition, when we bring the animal sacrifice to G-d, we are bringing the animalistic part of ourselves to the sacrifice. When we burn the sacrifice in part or in whole, we are burning that aspect of ourselves that represents the sin that we have committed, our hubris, and our failings in the moral domain. When we bring an offering that is not an atonement, we are bringing our gratitude and our yearning and intention to come closer to G-d.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, prayer became the substitute for sacrifice, a different way to approach G-d. However, the lack of that physicality, that metaphoric relationship, has become lost to many. Perhaps a better translation for sacrifice today is “offering.” What are the ways that we can offer something of ourselves to become closer to G-d? How can we sanctify our relationship to G-d through some action that either represents atonement for our various sins or that offers praise and recognition for the gifts that we have received?

I would contend that another pathway to closeness happens when we offer time, money, or some aspect of comfort in our lives to benefit someone else. This could be time to visit someone who is sick, to advocate for a cause, to spend with family or even with ourselves. As a collective atonement for contributions to global warming, we could rearrange our consumption of fossil fuels, sacrificing some comforts perhaps for the greater good. As a family or individual, we could adjust our consumer spending and give our savings to a charity or cause that we believe in.

This past weekend, I participated in a training session on lobbying in D.C. with the American Jewish World Service. I then had the opportunity to visit with the staff of my senators and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to advocate for reforms to the foreign aid portion of the US Farm Bill. The reforms support reducing food insecurity and global hunger for 17 million more recipients of US Aid as well as increasing food sovereignty for countries to end the need for foreign interventions.

Some would say that I sacrificed time, money, and energy, in the way that we interpret that term, as giving something up. Rather, I would say that I was able to offer something of myself to become closer to G-d. Standing on Capital Hill, walking through the halls of Congress, I felt so privileged to be able to speak up for the values that emerge from Judaism — to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and take care of the widow, orphan, and stranger. I found another way to sacrifice, to pray, to break through the silence. When we speak of korbonot/sacrifices in the modern world, our atonement and our praise needs to find different expressions. Our sages say, as it is below, so it is on high. We can transform the world by the offerings that we make of ourselves, in atonement and in gratitude, which bring us closer to the manifestation of G-d’s goodness in the world.

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