This week's Torah portion says that for an animal to be acceptable as a sacrifice it had to be with its mother for at least the first seven days (Leviticus 22:27).
I remember visiting a milk farm in Israel in the Spring. It was calving season.
Calving season is the time when mommy cows have baby cows (calves to be precise). However, rather than let the new born calves suckle from their mother (as some may have learned in National Geographic), the farm hands were feeding the little calves milk from baby bottles - it was very cute.
But it did seem rather surreal to see a calf, like a human baby, suckle on a baby bottle. I mean what do the calves do in the wild if they can't find a bottle?
So we asked, "Why not let the calves suckle from their mothers?"
It would just seem to save an awful lot of time and effort. Those calves looked really heavy, and, I don't know, call me old fashioned, but isn't that the way it's supposed to be?
Anyway, this wasn't a dysfunctional farm. There was a real reason behind their method. Apparently cows only produce as much milk as the calf suckles. As the calf matures and eventually weans away from its mother, the mother slowly produces less and less milk, eventually becoming useless as a milk cow.
Thus the baby bottles.
However, the farm hands told us something interesting. They take the baby calves away from the mother at birth, so they don't let the calf suckle even once. Not as cute.
We asked the farm why they don't let the calves suckle for just a few days. They explained that they tried that once; however, when you take a calf away from its mother before it has weaned away naturally, one of them cries.
Have you ever seen a mother cow cry? Apparently it goes on for days and the incessant moaning can keep you up all night long. Try this - next time you see a cow in a field, walk over to it and whisper in its ear: "You really are ugly, and a little overweight to boot!"
Cows just can't handle that kind of rejection, they just fall apart.
Seriously though, why does God want us to hear the mother cow cry before we offer the calf as a sacrifice?
The Talmud (Pesachim 112a) explains; the mother cow needs to give more than the calf wants to take. That's why the mother cries and not the calf. The crying is a message, it makes us aware of a great principle of existence: the need to give is more meaningful than the desire to take.
Today we have replaced sacrifices (the calf) with prayers and therefore this principle is at the heart of prayer. For our prayers to be effective (as in sacrifices) you have to hear the tears and their message. Whose tears should we be hearing?
Just like the cow is crying because it needs to give, God is crying over how much He wants to give you.
God wants to give you, more than what you want to take.
That's how we should pray, realizing how much God really wants to give to us.
Even for things we don't get, at least not yet, it's not that God doesn't want to give - but maybe it's because it's not good for us. At least for now.
And so we keep praying.
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BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Question 1: The milk farm took away the baby at birth so the mother would not cry. God tells us to keep it with its mother for at least 7 days, and then take it. Who is kinder, the milk farm or God?
Question 2: Why?