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Vayikra(Leviticus 1-5)

Nobody Wants Your Sacrifices

It's your wife's birthday. Her favorite flower is an orchid. Where you live, Orchids run at about $15 a stem, so a bouquet is going to set you back $150 at least.

You have a series of choices:

  1. The florist has some week-old orchids he'll give you for $4 a piece.
  2. Buy some wild flowers - $15 max.
  3. Get her the great wrench set you've always wanted (at least it won't die after a week).
  4. Buy the $150 orchids.
  5. Give her cash (you decide what amount) and let her make the tough decisions.

Now for most rational people, isn't #5 the right answer? Didn't we evolve out of the barter system so that we got what we wanted and didn't end up with a dozen sheep and two pounds of potatoes when we sold the family cow?

How is it that this ancient custom of guessing and agonizing over a present for your Cousin George or your Aunt Bessie, whom you haven't seen in 10 years, still remains. Give them the cash.

Buying your wife a $1,000 pearl necklace may be a great sacrifice on your part. But it is not going to do the trick if she doesn't like pearls. Nobody wants your sacrifices!

* * *

HOW TO REALLY CARE

If you understand all this, you understand the real meaning of "sacrifice" as we read in this week's Torah portion.

Actually, sacrifice is a bad translation. When we bring cows, sheep and goats to the Temple in Jerusalem, the Hebrew word used is "korbon." As Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (19th century German leader) points out it has its roots in the concept of "being close." No word in the English language approaches a good translation, though conceptually it relates to a "gift."

When you give your wife a gift, it isn't a sacrifice (at least it shouldn't be). It isn't even the most effective way of getting her what she wants - give her the cash.

Don't tell me it's the thought when you bring her the week-old orchids or even when you have an account with the florist who delivers the same flowers every year (whether you remember or not).

What she is looking for in a present is evidence that you care. You care enough to go out of your way. You care enough to think about it.

But do you really care? Does the $150 orchid bouquet prove that you care? Not really, not always.

Nothing in life counts unless we care. If we don't care, then it doesn't matter if we lose it or not. The key point here is that the more we care about important things in our lives (like our spouse), the more meaningful our lives become.

Do you want to care more for your spouse? Easy. Buy her/him a present - every week.

The more time and effort we make for this present, then the more we will think to ourselves, "What would my wife really like?" The more you do this, the more you will care. That is what your spouse really wants.

* * *

WHY THE BLOOD AND GUTS?

Let's start with a key question, "What does God want from us?" At the risk of being terribly cliche, I will answer with another question. What does your spouse really want from you on her birthday? And to really push the envelope, what do you want on your birthday from your spouse?

Is there anything he/she can buy you with your money? Similarly, is there anything we can give to God with His world?

The only thing we can possibly give another is a piece of ourselves by becoming closer to them. Anything else they can get on their own. They really don't need you to buy the flowers or the wrench set. Similarly, God can sacrifice His own animals. The only thing no one can have, unless I give it, is me. That's all I have to give.

So how do you give yourself? By caring.

How do you care more?

Let me explain. Take the wristwatch off your arm (don't try this at home) and unscrew the back, then take out all the parts and lay them out on the table. Then, put them all back together again. I told you not to try this at home.

Ok, take them to a watch maker and have them put it all back together again.

Then take a cow, take it apart (really don't try this at home) and do the same thing.

Impossible.

How do all the parts of a cow, sheep, goat, even us, all work when it's impossible for them to work once we take them apart? When you see that, you realize what a gift of life we have. No engineer can put all the parts together to make what was once standing and breathing a few minutes ago.

Incredible!

Life is an amazing gift of such magnitude, words do not exist to explain its true meaning.

When you realize what an amazing gift your spouse is, you will care more. When you care more, you will give more. When you give more, you will become closer. It is a wonderful cycle of gratitude, giving and closeness. It is the complete antidote to the petty selfishness that we often fall victim to.

When you see how amazing life is, that all our parts function and work in a way that makes human understanding sound like an oxymoron, then you will realize how much God has given you and you will be free. Free to give and therefore free to become ever closer to each other. And you won't feel a hint of sacrifice at all.

It's this realization, in seeing our children emerge from a womb, that frees us to give to them. Just realize therefore how enslaved we are with everyone else.

* * *

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: Make a list of the 3 things you care about the most.

Question 2: Make a list of the 3 people who have done the most for you?

Question 3: Who are the people you are closest too and why?

Published: March 1, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) jamey Charapp, March 23, 2012 7:49 PM

Great Insight...

Rabbi Baars, as usual you have taught me yet another important lesson and have given me great insight into this weeks torah portion. Good Shabbos

(7) Laya, March 21, 2012 3:33 AM

thank you so much

Great article, thank you! I've been truly happily and gratefully married nearly 20 years and am going to read this to my husband tonight on our "date". I read to my nearly 90 y.o. mom every day and read her this today. She also loved it. R. Baars, I also love that you replied to Chaim. (and also what you replied!) I wondered if the rabbis who write here actually read the comments. So it is nice to see that you do and that my "thank you" might really be seen so you know your work is hitting the mark and appreciated. Bests!

(6) Chaim, March 11, 2011 5:00 AM

Vayikra

Wow! This article made me look at this week's portion in a completely different way. When I was reading it, I thought that it was just a manual for long forgotten rituals.

(5) Rabbi Baars, March 7, 2011 6:01 PM

Chaim's Question

Rav Yaacov Weinberg tz"l spoke about this, and the truth is, you answered your own question. We think love is being spontaneous. But love is really doing what the other really wants. As opposed to what we really want. When you are tired and you ask your spouse for a cup of tea, that's love. Not getting her coffee when you feel like it.

(4) Chaim, March 4, 2011 12:47 AM

Question

I much enjoyed this articulate & well written exposition. But if that is the essence of sacrifices, pray tell, why the countless commandments regarding every minute detail of their offering? If my wife instructed me to buy flowers and specified precisely which ones to purchase and how many of each, I may have done her shopping for her yet I would hardly consider it a 'gift'. There seems to be little room for personal expression within the precise laws of sacrifices. Please enlighten me.

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