Parshat Vayikra

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

“Korbonot and Closeness: Revisited”
By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, ’07

In 2013, in considering this parshah, I asked some questions that I want to reconsider from a different frame of reference. How do we fulfill our yearning for closeness with divine energy? How do we establish our relationship with God? How do we ask for forgiveness for our behaviors? How do we thank and praise God? I pose these questions today in relation to climate change and regulations.


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 God. In the Chabad Hasidic tradition, when we bring the animal sacrifice to God, 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 God.


Perhaps a better translation for sacrifice today is offering. What are the ways that we can offer something of ourselves to become closer to God? How can we sanctify our relationship to God through some action that either represents atonement for our various sins or that offers praise and recognition for the gifts that we have received?


Today, I ponder these questions with a sense of urgency related to our body politic. How are we as a nation prepared to offer some aspect of comfort in our lives to benefit the planet? What is it that we can do to expatiate the sins of our age? And what is the nature of those sins. Chet— the sin we commit inadvertently, the mistake that we make. Avon— the sin that we commit with full knowledge and intention towards another human being. Pesha-— the sin that we commit as a transgression, a crossing the line to disobey God’s will. If we inadvertently polluted in the past, perhaps this was a mistake, an error in judgment or knowledge. If we then pollute intentionally through ignoring regulations, isn’t this a violation of the pubic trust? However, if we intentionally do away with the regulations themselves, aren’t we in some way in rebellion against God’s will? Aren’t we commanded to care for the earth?


Some would say that we sacrifice jobs or monetary gain or our freedom by imposing regulations. Rather, I would say that regulations are the constraints that provide us with the freedom to live in safety and security. Regulations are researched and put into place as protections for our well-being, not as a hindrance to progress, not as a handicap to economic growth or the creation of jobs.  Just as the “siyyug to Torah”, the gates of our laws that contain the Torah, regulations function as a safety net. 


Sometimes we need to sacrifice in order to become whole. As a society, we need to learn to sacrifice, to find new solutions to challenges, to break through to a new form to bring us closer to God. When we speak of korbonot/sacrifices in the modern world, our atonement for sins of misusing or abusing our planet. We need to learn to offer praise and gratitude for our resources. 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, to sacrifice in the short term perhaps, to find long term solutions to protect the planet.  We can find joy in the appreciation of the resources that we have and celebrate them by finding power solutions that harness the earth’s creative potential through wind, or solar, or wave energy. Through a process of atonement as well as gratitude, we can bring ourselves closer to the manifestation of God’s goodness in the creation of God’s world and our own.

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