Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Would You Come Closer If I Asked You To? (John Barlow & Bob Weir "Lazy Lightning")

       Our ten year old daughter is quite tech savvy.  She recently noticed that the I Pad had a new commercial. How do I know this? In our home there is a direct correlation between new advertisements of things my children want and their asking me to buy them these things.  I have known for a while that she wants an I Pad for her birthday. Then for several months, she has been quiet. Now since the new commercial, she will ask, negotiate and strongly suggest the educational advantages of buying her an I Pad.  I have noticed that as my children grow older, they are quite vulnerable to the rampant consumerism of our society. I also know that when we buy our children things, they take care of it and use it for a short period of time and then they stop caring and stop using it. We are a nation of consumers. We look for the “best deal”. We look for the “highest quality”. Some consumers like to save as much money as possible when purchasing goods and services and some consumers like to pay for quality or “trusted name brands”.  Some consumers strike a balance between these tensions and some consumers do not. In either case there is nothing we cannot purchase and we can spend as much or as little as we want on an item. Religion in Canada and the United States is no different. Religion is as much a consumer item as purchasing a car. We like certain models; we like certain makes. We want certain features and colors in the car that we buy. Certainly for the amount of money spent on a car we expect it to be just the way we want it. Many of us feel the same way about Judaism. 

        This Shabbat we begin the third book of the Torah with the Parsha of the same name, Vayikra otherwise known as Leviticus. Unlike Breishit and parts of Shmot which were narratives or other parts of Shmot with were a series of legislative acts, teaching us law after law; Vayikra is something very different. We are all able to relate to narrative and to stories. We can even read the law that governed biblical Jewish society and admire the laws’ humanity, admire the ethical lessons the law tried to teach or even admire the people that the law tried to protect. However when we begin Parshat Vayikra, we all have a problem connecting to the concept of Korbonot, the term used to describe animal sacrifices. We all have difficulty connecting to the various types of Korbonot; the animals permitted for an offering, and the technical aspects of the offering. Do we really need to know how to check of the animal, and to slaughter the animal? Do we need to read about sprinkling the blood of the animal; roasting the animal, and finally eating the animal? Parsha Vayikra and in fact the entire book of Leviticus truly challenges those of us living in modernity. If for no other reason, we are challenged because we don’t have a Mishkan, we don’t have a Holy Temple and we don’t make animal sacrifices.
        Certainly there was wide array of offerings. There was flexibility in what type of animal could be brought: ox, sheep, lamb, dove etc. However the type of animal offered was not a function of what we wanted to offer but rather what we could afford to offer. Even more powerful is how Parsha defined afford. It is certainly very different than how we define “afford”. Quite often we “moderns” define Korbonot as a sacrifice. This means that our ancestors had to give something up to God. Understanding a Korbonot as an animal sacrifice suggest that the more expensive or the more valuable the offering; the more God would like it.  However, the Prophets teach us that God doesn’t need our sacrifices. The Prophets remind us that the Korbonot is not about the thing that we give up: the ox, the sheep, the pigeon or the meal offering. Rather the Korbonot should be about our drawing closer to God; Korbonot was a process of drawing towards God in a relationship built upon thankfulness and holiness. Therefore if the wealthy person brought a Korbonot consisting of an animal that did not mean very much to him, then there was no point in bringing an offering. When a poor person brings an offering that had value to him but did so with an attitude of rote activity or with the hopes of public recognition; then there was no point in bringing an offering. The point of the bringing the animal or the point of making any offering is an expression of what we are willing to put into our relationship with God.
          How much of ourselves are we willing to put in this relationship? Because as much as we put into our relationship with God will be about as much as we get from God. Yes, we are all consumers. We consume goods; we consume services. We know people who consume relationships. Ironically such person puts very little of him or herself into the relationship. Many of us want our Judaism the way we want it, at our own individual convenience, at times that fit our schedule, on days that we are not so busy, and at moments when we are in need. Sadly, I know that after I buy my daughter or any of my kids something that they just can’t live without, it falls into disuse and disrepair. However when they work for things, or are rewarded for something; they are invested. They take better care of the item. They stop being a consumer. The more we are willing to offer God, the more richness and meaning we receive in return.

Rav Yitz

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