When I was studying to be a rabbi at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, one of the requirements for students was that we had to read Torah on Monday and Thursday mornings at Shacharit services. I vividly remember one morning when the reader took out the Torah to read and couldn’t find his place. Perhaps he hadn’t checked the scroll to begin with, perhaps someone had rolled the scroll to practice from but hadn’t rerolled it. I will never know. I just remember that the pause seemed to go on forever and one of the professors called out from the back, “Just read anything; it’s all good.”
This week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, would be extremely easy to find because it is at the very beginning of the Book of Leviticus. Whether it is good, however, is a matter open for debate.
The entirety of this week’s portion describes the procedures for conducting some of the various animal and plant sacrifices that were offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. As a Reform Jew, I don’t believe in the sacrificial cult, nor do I want it restored, which makes this week’s Torah portion somewhat problematic. Rather, I am in agreement with Isaiah (1:11): “‘What need have I of all your sacrifices?’ says the Eternal.” No need whatsoever, as far as I am concerned, which makes this week’s portion so hard.
Yet God is speaking to us through the text, even the problematical ones, and I look to Hosea for understanding (6:6): “For I desire goodness, not sacrifice; obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings.” I just don’t believe that God wants us to slaughter rams and goats and oxen, dashing the blood about and burning up the carcasses. I believe that God desires personal sacrifices from each one of us, leading to better behavior.
We need to sacrifice our egos. We like to think that we are masters of our own destinies, in command of our own lives. Yet we are not. We might build beautiful homes to live in, yet floods, fires and windstorms can quickly destroy the illusion that we are completely in control of our own safety and comfort. We are not even in complete control of our own bodies, subject as we are to disease and aging. Why, all I have to do is miss a meal to find myself losing control over my own emotions, becoming more irritable and easily angered. We must sacrifice our egos and accept that we are not in complete control of our own lives.
We need to sacrifice our own selves. We live in community and have an obligation to self-sacrifice for the good of the community. We cannot always get to have things exactly as we would want them, but rather must compromise for the common good. And we must support the wider community with our personal resources, giving tzedakah generously to support those in need, as well as communal efforts. We must sacrifice of our own selves to lend support to each other.
We need to sacrifice our time. We live in an age of instant gratification, yet I suspect it would be more accurate to say we live in an age of the illusion of instant gratification. Have you ever eaten an instant soup? Can you honestly say that instant soup is as gratifying as homemade that took hours to prepare? Have you ever had a text conversation? Can you honestly say that quick text messages are as satisfying as spending time and talking with the ones you love? So, too, we cannot expect a real relationship with God in an instant. There is no just add water, stir and enjoy a relationship with God. There are many ways to be in a relationship with God, but one commonality is that they all take time. So we must sacrifice our time to be in a gratifying relationship with God.
I may not believe that we need animal sacrifices anymore, as outlined in this week’s Torah portion, but I do believe that we need to sacrifice our egos, our own selves and our time to be in relationship with God.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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