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Our Modern Sacrificial Offerings

Parashat Pinhas - July 3, 2021

Judaism is expensive. A few of us here order our meat online or buy in bulk when we visit Dallas, so that we can keep kosher. The tallitot we wear in our services do not come for free, and the Jewish summer camps that many of us once attended, or at least, sent kids to, certainly did not come for free either. In just a couple of months, we will purchase lulav sets for Sukkot, and I know quite a few people in this congregation who spend a sizable chunk of their income on books about various Torah topics. Of course, finances are not our only sacrifice.

Some of us know the physical and emotional sacrifice of being Jewish. In our not-too-distant past, being Jewish might have cost us our lives. Many of us grew up with frightening comments or bullying, and even today, we hear stories of anti-Semitic violence escalating in our country. By identifying proudly with our religious tradition, while we might not sacrifice our safety, we sacrifice some of the ease that may otherwise come with safety.

After the storytelling and lists of names we have seen in the past few Torah portions, we return to the conversation of sacrifices, especially associated with our Jewish holidays. In one of his last few conversations with Moses, God instructs him to tell the people of Israel - be careful in bringing offerings to me at their appointed times, my offerings of food and my offerings by fire of a pleasing odor (Numbers 28:1). These offerings, like our tallitot and lulav sets, never came to the people of Israel for free. Whether for the offerings in which individuals would bring their own animals and produce, or for those in which the kohanim would bring animals and produce provided to them by Israelite tithing, the people of Israel saw first-hand how their work translated into worship. Celebrating, saying sorry, or just marking a day in the calendar all came with tangible sacrifice, the knowledge that establishing a relationship with God often requires effort and exertion. 

Like any relationship, a relationship with God needs tending. Like in any relationship, the space in which we meet, the words we say, and what we contribute to the partnership all matter. We in this room have collectively sacrificed a whole lot of time because of our belief in our God and in the Jewish people. We in this room have given hours cleaning up this building, tending to mourners and the deceased, and embraced hours a week of Jewish learning.

If you believe you can dive into our modern sacrifice of time even more, we can always use your wisdom and presence here. As I am putting together a group to craft a statement on inclusion for our synagogue, you can spend your time learning and writing for the benefit of our Jewish community. If you enjoy connecting with new people or people you haven’t seen in years, you can spend some of your time on the phone, checking up on those who cannot often make it here. You can prepare an oneg or Kiddush lunch, and you can teach something that keeps you passionate about Judaism on a Shabbat afternoon.

And if you’re one of those people who already sacrifices your time and resources for this synagogue space, I ask you to put some more of your time or resources towards your personal experience with God and Judaism. Spend some of your free time in prayer each day, or spend your bonus on a cause that represents your Jewish values.

When the Torah speaks of sacrificial offerings, we hear that the fires produce ריח ניחחי, a pleasing, comforting scent to God. When we give of ourselves to experience our Judaism, our primary reason should be our appreciation of God. And yet, we cannot give of ourselves indefinitely without enjoying what we experience in return. When we give of ourselves to our Jewish community, we gain more of a voice over our communal values, our choice of tunes, our snack choices, and our general aesthetic. When we give a little to enhance our Jewish homes, we have the opportunity to define more clearly how our Judaism gives us comfort and confidence. In joyful sacrifice, we gain the access to that pleasure and comfort - ריח ניחחי - and hopefully, we gain closer access to the Presence of God. Shabbat Shalom.

Mon, January 17 2022 15 Shevat 5782