This week’s Torah reading discusses the role of the priests with regards to sacrifices of animals and grains in the Sanctuary. The voice of the prophets is brought in to remind us that, even in ancient times, the emphasis needed to be on doing acts of kindness and compassion rather than dwelling on the external façade that sanctuary sacrifices could become.
Amos the Prophet said in the name of God, “Even though you bring Me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them… But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream.” Jeremiah the Prophet quoted God, saying: “I am God, who practices kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth; it is in these things I delight.”
The sacrifices were important however they needed to be done in the right spirit, with authenticity. They also needed to be done by people who were genuinely endeavoring to bring goodness into the world as well as performing rituals.
This is connected to the importance placed on intention behind actions and the importance of backing up good intentions with actions in the world.
The word for sacrifice in Hebrew, korban, is connected to the word for closeness, karov. The sacrifices of ancient times were designed to give people a way to experience closeness with the divine. Sacrifices were also an opportunity to give something up – an animal or part of a harvest – and in so doing, renounce ownership of something. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that this was an opportunity for each person to understand the ephemeral nature of ownership and that we are “no more than trustees or guardians” of the things we “own”.
After the Temple was destroyed, other forms of renunciation were substituted: giving charity, learning and prayer are all opportunities to become closer to the divine if done with a pure intention. But, closer to the divine does not just mean feeling holiness, it means bringing holiness and goodness into the world, each person in their own way. This week we are invited to consider what we sacrifices we make in our lives and whether we are willing to make more sacrifices for the sake of improving ourselves and the world.
With Pesach only a few days away, we think about the Festival of Freedom and the number of people who have limited freedom at this time.
May each of us be inspired to help others and ourselves gain new levels of freedom, knowing that true freedom comes with responsibilities and limitations.