Offering or Sacrificing?
Like most of the book of Vayikra which we just started last week, Parshat Tsav concerns itself with the workings of the Mishkan, in particular the korbanot, animal and meal offerings, and kohanim, priests from the tribe of Levi who served in the Mishkan.
Each of the varied types of korbanot are described at length in Parshat Tsav: which ones to bring for peace making, after one has sinned, if one is guilty of something, offerings completely burnt for God, offerings for giving thanks, and voluntary offerings. Each has its own complex set of rules and procedures for when it is brought and what it consists of. But why? What is the point of all of these korbanot anyway? What are we, today, supposed to learn from all of this?
Korbanot are also translated as sacrifices, a word we associate with giving something up for someone else. What could we possibly give to God.
Does God need our sacrifice?
In truth, “offering” is the better translation, as it incorporates the root of the word korban, which is ק,ר,ב, to come close.
When we give an offering of ourselves we come close to someone – in this case to God. Just as giving to people helps us come closer to them, the act of giving korbanot is meant to change us by deepening our relationship with God.
This is the reason the Torah goes on at length about korbanot. We’ve spoken about how the Jewish people still had a slave mentality upon coming out of Egypt and had everything done for them miraculously by God.
The Mishkan was a chance for the people to collectively give of themselves to come closer to God, especially in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf. The korbanot were an opportunity for each individual person to come close to God, to develop and deepen a personal relationship through giving of themselves.
Studying Parshat Tsav this week in particular is an interesting experience, as we go through another week sheltering in place. Our Jewish community life has become one of video calls and new ways of preparing for פסח. The central aspects of synagogue and Jewish community feel so far away.
There’s no doubt that this will transform this year’s sedarim, all over the world. Perhaps we might feel disconnected from our Yiddishkeit without the infrastructure we are so good at creating as a community.
It is in just such a moment that we most need to hear the message of Parshat Tzav, as it teaches us that every single individual has something deep and profound to offer from within ourselves in this (and every!) moment that can transform our relationship with God, and with each other – the power to give.
Questions for the Shabbat Table:
- Why do you think God cares so much about people and their motivations?
- Think of a time you offered something to someone. How did that make you feel? What is something you can do this week to be giving of yourself even in this time of physical distance?