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In this week's Torah reading, the Torah describes for us the rituals of offering sacrifices in the temple. Our generation and our society are far removed from the concept of animal sacrifices and, because of this, the Torah reading somehow does not really speak directly to us.
Already in the 13th century, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon offered the idea that we have to view sacrifices for the value that they entail and not so much for the rituals themselves Even though one of the six sections of the Mishnah and the Talmud concerns itself almost exclusively with the laws and rituals of animal sacrifices, this has become more of a theoretical and scholarly exercise, without it having any practical effect upon our lives.
When the temple will be rebuilt, then all these things will become actualized once more, but for now they are theoretical. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, said that the idea of sacrifice was that the person offering the sacrifice should see his own self as being the sacrifice.
This means that one must sacrifice one's desires, habits, lifestyle and all sorts of other pleasures to the service of God and of Israel. This type of sacrifice certainly remains alive and necessary today as well, and it entails the ability to give away what we think is ours for a cause that we believe to be greater and nobler than our own personal needs and wants.
Because of this, the concept of sacrifices has cogency and meaning for each one of us. If we look at our lives, we see that every day we make choices in which ultimately lie the sacrifice of oneself, one's interests, and one's own desires, for a higher cause.
There are many different types of sacrifices listed in this week's Torah reading. There is a sacrifice that is a complete donation to God where the man or woman bringing the sacrifice really has no immediate or material benefit. This altruism was reserved usually for public sacrifices that were offered twice a day in the temple.
There are sacrifices, however, that are very personal. There are sacrifices that are meant to atone for sins and only we know which sins we have committed. There are sacrifices for wrongdoing when we are not even certain if the wrongdoing occurred. Because of this, we are constantly involved in reassessing our lives and rethinking events and policies that we have subscribed to.
People change during their lifetime and hopefully they mature and see things in a different light. The idea of sacrifice for sins passed makes for a stronger present and a brighter future. There are also sacrifices of thanksgiving. That is a sacrifice of one's own ego. In this instance we have to acknowledge that we found ourselves in terrible difficulty, in great danger and we survived and emerged from the crisis….with help. We must admit that we did not do it on our own.
We are thankful to others and we are thankful to our creator for having allowed us to be able to survive the issue, that is a sacrifice of ego. No one wants to admit that we need help from others. We all desire to be self-sufficient in the broadest sense of the word. But life teaches us that none of us are completely self-sufficient, that all of us are dependent upon others.
Then there are sacrifices that mark our holidays that are, so to speak, ritual sacrifices imposed upon us by history. The sacrifice of the paschal lamb is the outstanding example of this. We cannot proceed with the future unless we are aware of the past and are aware of the sacrifices of the past that enable us to even contemplate a future, a better future.
All these ideas are encompassed in the ritual laws of the sacrifices introduced in this week's Torah reading. The Torah reading begins by God calling out to Moshe. The same word in Hebrew that represents calling out also represents glory and honor. Because of that, when we hear God calling out to us, governing our behavior and thoughts, then we are aware of the glory and honor of being part of the people of Israel.
Everyone should stay healthy and cheerful. I look forward to seeing you soon.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Berel Wein


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