The Weekly Sedra – Parashas Vayikra – Self-Sacrifice / It Doesn’t Really Kill

Rabbi Yossi Kahanov Shliach to Jacksonville, FL

On a freezing winter night as Napoleon lie under his warm covers, he was overcome by a sudden bout of thirst. Considering that in order to satisfy his craving he would have to leave his cozy conditions and go outside to fetch some water, he contemplated ignoring his nagging discomfort, but was quickly overcome by a powerful sense of shame.
“Napoleon! You have become all but lazy,” he said to himself. “There is, evidently, no difference between you and the common yokel.” With that, he tore himself out of bed and proceeded out the door to fetch himself some water.
By the time he walked across the field, where the fresh water was stored, he thought to himself: “Bonaparte, you really ought to be embarrassed of yourself. You are so weak you’d do anything to avoid a little discomfort. Have you no willpower to prevail over a tad of thirst? There is obviously no difference between you and the ordinary Joe.” He immediately retuned to bed without touching a drop of water.
Upon relating this story, the Chasidic master of Lublin, (The Chozeh) concluded: “This is what I call strength of character.”



When asked to give an informal talk to a group of religiously uncommitted Jews, I discussed the idea of self-sacrifice. The facilitator – obviously not overly impressed – asked why I chose this topic. “These are not religious people,” he argued, “are you trying to blow them away?” My answer was rather simple: “I chose this topic because it captures the essence of Judaism.”

Self-sacrifice is not very popular in Western culture, to say the least. It is arguably the very antitheses of everything our society admires and encourages. The idea of seeking-out and indulging in as many pleasures as possible is inculcated into the human psyche from the moment of birth. Wherever we turn we are introduced to a new form of entertainment or pleasure which plays to our base instincts. We are repeatedly reminded how much we need and “deserve” it. Indulgence is what drives our economy and how we measure success.

But what does it say about the quality of our character? It is not hard to understand that continuous pandering to our animalistic dimension is not going to produce a very pretty result. Does our skyrocketing level of divorce, road rage, crime and depression, have anything to do with this? I’ll leave it for you to decide.

What’s clear is that if we desire to achieve a modicum of self-refinement – to transcend an animalistic existence, it must begin with some degree of self-discipline.

Animal sacrifice was a central part of the service that took place in the Temple, yet the Temple is not only a physical structure that existed in a given time and place, it is rather an ongoing phenomenon that occurs within each one of us.

The sacrifices discussed in this weeks Torah portion, and for that matter throughout the entire book of Vayikra, are about the sacrifices that each of us must perform within our very own sanctuary – with our very own animal instincts and desires, in order to reach a higher level of consciousness.

It is not a coincidence that the Hebrew word for sacrifice is Korban from the word Karov, which means to get close. To get closer to our spiritual G-dly-self, which is the quintessential objective of Judaism, we must distance ourselves and ignore some of the demands of our animal-self, which is what Judaism refers to as Self-sacrifice.

This sacrifice is not about suffering or death (G-d forbid), it is rather about the essence of spirituality and life.

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