click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Tzav
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Vayikra(Leviticus 1-5)

Nobody Wants Your Sacrifices

It's your wife's birthday. Orchids are her favorite flower. A bouquet is going to set you back about $150.

You have a series of choices:

  1. The florist has some old orchids he'll give you for $40.
  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 and let her make the tough decisions.

Now isn't #5 the most rational answer? Didn't we evolve out of the barter system so that we got what we wanted instead of three 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 still remains?


In this week's Torah portion we read about sacrifices, which to the modern ear sounds very strange. But in truth it shouldn't be, because it's not the concept that is the problem, it's the translation.

The Hebrew word used for sacrifice is "korbon." As Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (19th century German leader) points out, korbon has its roots in the concept of "being close." No word in the English language approaches a good translation, though conceptually it's what we call a present.

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.

So why do we do it?

What a spouse really wants in a present is that you care, more than what they actually want. And care is evidenced through trying to figure out what you really want.

Essentially, you care enough to think about it

I know what I like, I might know what you have liked in the past. That's easy because you tell me. But figuring out what you will like -- that's a challenge! There is only one way to know that.


And the more you care, the more you will understand what your spouse likes and thinks. And the more you do that, the closer you become.

We can't become close to someone we don't understand.

We can't become close to a God we don't understand. If we don't know what they like, we don't know them. God likes Korbonos.


It's two days till your birthday and your ten year old son asks for $20.


Because he wants to buy you a Buzz Lightyear reading lamp as a present.

Isn't this a waste of money?


Is there anything your son can buy you with your own money that you really want?


Similarly, is there anything we can give to God, using His world?

The only thing we can possibly give God, or anyone, is a piece of ourselves.

It's not the lamp you will enjoy - it's the piece of your son in the lamp.

How do we give a piece of ourselves?


Caring is understanding what they like, love and need.

Understanding means you get it. You get why they like it.

And you can't do that without liking it too.

Less than that and you just don't understand. Less than that means you aren't giving enough to care.

Your spouse doesn't need you to buy them the flowers or even the wrench set. Similarly, God can sacrifice His own animals. The only thing no one can have, unless I give it, is me. And that's all I have to give.


Allow me to explain.

Take the wristwatch off your arm and unscrew the back. Don't try this at home.

Now 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.


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? That is what you see in a korbon. 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.


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

When you realize how amazing life is, you will realize what a gift it is. The most precious gift. And that is what God loves. Life.

The more you appreciate life, the more you understand God. It is a wonderful cycle of gratitude, giving and closeness.

And it is the perfect 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 understand God (to the degree possible).

And when you understand God you will feel closer to Him. Why, because you care about what he cares about.



March 1, 2000

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.

Visitor Comments: 10

(10) Anonymous, March 18, 2016 12:21 PM

Excellent article! Thanks for posting!

(9) Anonymous, March 18, 2015 1:32 PM

Great article! Thanks for posting this :)

(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


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.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment