Different Levels of Sacrifice

March 24, 2023 / 2 Nissan 5783

My friends, Israel is on my mind. How could it not be? I have received emails on the one hand asking, “What is the Jewish Federation of San Antonio’s position on the happenings in Israel?”; and on the other hand, I received almost as many, “How dare JFNA [our national organization] head to Israel to share American Jewry’s thoughts and try to influence the Israeli government!”

The Jewish community is once again torn in a seemingly Solomonic situation. Do we split the baby in half, or do we save the baby by giving it to one mother over the other?

This week we begin reading the Book of Leviticus, and specifically its namesake Torah portion, Vayikra. As such, we begin a stretch of readings that are some of the most unrelatable stories and experiences of the entire Torah. Texts that describe the sacrifices, the specificity of the priests’ actions and preparations, numerous rules and regulations that at first seem so archaic and ancient that it is understandable to wonder about the relevance of these events in our post-biblical lifestyles.

For instance, in reading the endless number of sacrifices described in this week’s text, one could easily get lost in the descriptions of the various animals, birds, and cake offerings. And if the descriptions weren’t distracting enough, the meticulous procedures of the priests in how to prepare these items for sacrifice reads just as superfluous and unnecessary. Yet, upon a closer reading, there exists the potential to discover a message that would otherwise be lost in the depth of the many distractions.

Ironically, upon reflection of this week’s Torah reading I began to think about my interest and childhood hobby of playing with Legos. There are basically two ways to play with Lego. The freestyle childlike manner of imagining something and then building it brick-by-brick through trial and error. Here, the user typically begins with a bin of random pieces and jumps right in combining the Lego bricks. Then there’s the more structured way of playing with Lego. Here, the builder typically purchases a specific kit, unpacks only the immediately needed pieces at a time, reads the guidebook to construct in a specific order, and ultimately ends with a stunning visual of a replica of the pictured item on the Lego box. 

To be clear, there is no intent to suggest that one approach is any more correct than the other. There are simply two ways to “play” and two different ways to live the experience. 

To the structured observer, this week’s Torah portion looks like the guidebook on what to do and how to do it. Place those blocks in a very particular order to achieve the very specific described outcome. However, to the freestyle user, the words themselves are less important than the message. The message to those less inclined to care about animal sacrifices is that we still need to make sacrifices. We cannot live a sacrifice-free life. There are levels of sacrifice, and there are different reasons to sacrifice, but no matter what, how, or why, the fact is that we still need to make sacrifice. The freestyler revels in knowing where they’re heading but having no idea how to get there.

Unfortunately, this is our struggle today, not only in Israel but most assuredly in America too. We have two groups wanting to play with the same blocks using two different approaches and wanting two different outcomes. Without knowing where we are heading, we are destined to arrive at a point of unyielding disagreement. The two approaches are simply not compatible without sacrifice.

I am reminded of my grandfather’s wise words when I pushed back against rules and structure as a young child, we do not always know why we are being told to do what we need to do. Sometimes, we just need to do it and have faith that it will end up the way it’s supposed to be. Following these seemingly unreasonable demands was my sacrifice as a child to the system, to authority, and to adulthood. However, today, as an adult my sacrifice to the freestyle spirit is reminded through the Yiddish proverb, mensch tracht and Gt lacht (people plan and Gd laughs). Oh, how I have made Gd laugh over the years.

We are in no position to know the future. The days of ancient prophets are no longer. What we must take away from the lessons of the Torah is our need to sacrifice for the betterment of the community, of our society, of our world. If we only commit to doing it one way, and that way is the way that most speaks to us personally, we will undoubtedly bring strife and eventual warfare. There is never just one solution. According to the old joke, “Two Jews, three opinions.” One answer has never been the Jewish way and this week’s Torah portion emphasizes as much. 

May we improve our communications between the many faces of Judaism by listening to those other opinions. Because we are…


Shabbat shalom