The whole idea of “sacrifices”… I can make sense of it etymologically, finding some meaning in the fact that “korban” (sacrifice) comes from k.r.v., “coming close”, and I do believe that the two are related; that becoming “close” can be directly related to how much we’re willing to do for, to give-up, to “sacrifice”. The classical example is parenting, especially when the child is very young, and yet, the more the parents “give”, “give-up”, and “sacrifice”, the more they look at their child with love and feel a special bond. This can be true for any relationship.
And still, in the background loom the “real” sacrifices, including detailed descriptions of body parts, what to burn where etc.
Most of my family lives on different meat-avoiding diets, from vegan to vegetarian to Rav Cook’s diet (fish or chicken for Shabbat and holiday, and veggie during the week). The whole thing seems ancient, outdated, irrelevant. Who cares? This is what they did long ago and we’re now “modern” and “progressive”!
Well, first, we might wonder if shopping for a piece of animal in the store – not to mention the treatment it goes through before it got there – makes us really more “progressive”, but I’ll leave that for now.
Because what’s worse, is that in the process of the discussion about meat, we miss much of what else going on. For example, in this week’s reading, the first thing the priest does every morning is – take out yesterday’s trash. In order to do so, he wears special clothing, and I think just that – is amazing.
Trash gets special care and attention. Trash is important. Trash has a special place to be put bamakom tahor , in a holy spot (Leviticus 6:4).
Again, withy modern eyes, this might sound very environmental to us, and environmentalism is indeed not absent from Torah life, but sages of different cultures saw more in taking out trash.
One of my favorite Yoga stories is about a young student who goes to his master asking him to teach him the ways of the Light. The master knows the student was not ready but rather than tell him so, decides to convey it in a lesson. The next morning, the master goes to the student with his own (the master’s) dirty food bowl, and asked the student to put some fresh food in it. The bowl looks disgusting and the student refuses: ‘sorry master but you need to clean out your old dirt first; then I can put fresh food in it for you’. The master
(as they often do in these stories), smiles and says, ‘indeed. You need to do the same with your mind. Before I can teach you anything new, you need to empty out the old stuff’.
And yet, cleaning out trash is just the first step. What next? The “trash” or ashes and remnants of the sacrifices, were initially carefully placed by the altar, and even when taken out of the camp, placed in a “holy place”. Why? Because they were not “stam” (nothing, unimportant) trash; they were the left-overs of our greatest dedication, commitment and love. And so, even when they have burned out and are seemingly no longer useful, they still hold some of that original intent; they can therefore teach us about who we are, where we come from, what things worked and what things didn’t work, and from there, perhaps where we should go next. We’re told that the Maggid of Mezerich was once asked how one can sustain love and passion. He was talking about G-d but this might apply anywhere. He said: “He who needs fire should look in the ashes.” (Cited in Degel Machane Ephraim, Tzav, “And the Lord spoke”) “מי שצריך לאש מחפש באפר.” .(דגל מחנה אפרים, פרשת צו, ד”ה וידבר The potential of new fire is within its old ashes, right near by.