Lauren Levrant, April 22, 2005
As translated by Everett Fox, this chapter begins with God instructing Moshe to tell the Children of Israel, What is done in the land of Egypt, wherein you were settled, you are not to do; what is done in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you are not to do; by their laws you are not to walk. My regulations you are to do, my laws you are to keep, walking by them. Of course this is followed by a laundry list of sexual encounters that must be avoided, but to me, the very first lines speak more broadly. The Children of Israel, they are not really Jews yet, have been living as slaves in Egypt for 400 or so years, and were then moving into the land of the Canaanites. They were always a people apart, and that is the way it was supposed to be. By following their own set if laws and not the ways of those around them, this small group was able to survive. They survived the destruction of their kingdom, twice. And by transforming into Rabbinical Jews, and staying a people apart, have been able to survive for close to 2000 years. We were instructed not to assimilate, and its worked. At least for now.
Right now, anti-semitism is once again rearing its ugly head, right in our midst. Some of it is right out there in the open, as when eggs were thrown at a memorial service in London, commemorating a World War II bombing that killed 134 people, mostly Jews. And some of it is cloaked in Anti-Zionism, as it is on many college campuses. When we try to hide who we are, and forget that we are a people apart as God commanded, we allow this to happen.
On Sunday, May 15, we have a chance to show our community who we are. That we stand with Israel. Regardless of whether we agree with their government, we need to show our support of the Israeli people. Our people. Please join us, right here in Oak Park, for our Solidarity with Israel Walk.
This week, we read Tsav, which includes the instructions given to Aaron and his sons, on how to perform 5 kinds of ritual sacrifice. We read similar instructions last week, in the Parashat Vayikra which discusses what to do when a person brings an offering to God. This week, the language is more serious and demanding. These are the laws of sacrifice as God tells Moses to command Aaron and his sons. Here the language is more specific, the demands are higher. The sacrifices are discussed in terms of kodesh kadashim, the holiest of the holy, and they are listed in order of their degree of holiness.
The first of these offerings (or korbanot) is the “whole burnt offering” or torat ha-olah. It is important to note at this time that the word korban, offering, or sacrifice, comes from the same Hebrew root as l’hakriv, which means, to draw near. These ritualized sacrifices were the peoples way to draw nearer to God.
Words are important here. The word used when Abraham was told to go to Moriah to offer his beloved son Isaac was olah, or sacrifice.
On Moriah, God’s messenger stopped Abraham, from killing his son as a sacrifice to God.At the last minute a substitution was made, and a ram was offered in place of a child. After that one incident, other korbanot were prescribed. Rams, oxen, doves, grain, and oil, to name a few. The practices became more and more ritualized, and were finally formalized here in the Book of Leviticus.
Never in all of the instructions regarding offerings to God are the people asked to sacrifice their children. Nowhere does God ever ask that humans ever be sacrificed in his name.
As a matter of fact, in Deuteronomy, chapter 12, where we once again are given instructions for offerings, we are warned against copying the rites of the nations who were in the land before us. It states, “You shall not do so to your God, for everything that is an abomination of God, that He hates, have they done to their gods: for even their sons and their sons and their daughters have they burned in the fire for their gods.” It seems pretty clear here that human sacrifice is not what God wants.
In Jeremiah 32 we are told that the Israelites were once again drawn to the sacrificial practices of those around them, and built alters to give their sons and daughters to Molech. While that may sound attractive to those of us with teenagers, our God did not command it , and considers it an abomination, worthy of punishment. God has given his instructions on sacrifice, and he does not want our children.
Again and again, in the writings of the Prophets, we are warned about the punishments God will mete out if children are sacrificed in his name.
Let’s fast forward to 2004. Today on Palestinian Authority TV, a popular music video, broadcast during a show called “The Childrens’ Hour” states, “How sweet is the fragrance of the shahids, how sweet is the scent of the earth, its thirst quenched by the gush of blood, flowing from the youthful body.” Shahida, is the Arabic word for “death for Allah.” Millennia after Abraham is told not to sacrifice his child, his descendants are doing exactly that.
Once again, people who consider themselves “children of God” are worshiping at the alter of human sacrifice. Mothers, like Reem Reyashi, who’s goals to kill and be killed, are greater than their obligations to, and love for their children. Parents, who’s belief in a deity who thirsts for human blood, out weighs their desire to protect their offspring, Fathers who rejoice in the deaths of their children who blow themselves up in the hopes of taking a few Jews with them. Mothers who cry upon hearing of their childs death, not because they have lost a child, but because the shahid is to be envied, because they believe that angels in heaven are ushering the martyr to his wedding.
Religious and political leaders in Palestine are teaching their followers that they are born for the very purpose of dying for Allah, and the people are buying this message. A message that specifically contradicts the wishes of God.
In a day and age where human sacrifice is deplored by all civilized peoples, children, and adults alike are being called by their leaders to kill themselves in the name of the God.
Remember, korban is the word for sacrifice. It is derived from the word for “draw near”. We can be drawn nearer to God by worshipping in many ways. We are given instructions to do so in this week’s portion, and in many other places in the Torah. But, nowhere, does God ask us to give up our lives, or the lives of our loved ones for his sake.
And let us say, Amen.
Lauren Levrant, 11/13/98
When I first looked at this portion, there were many directions that I could have taken. First, I thought it was about a father who didn’t want his son to marry a shicksa. Granted, these weren't just people who worshipped a different god, these were people who performed human sacrifice for their god. But a d’var on the evils of intermarriage, I didn’t want to go there.
Then, I thought about Abraham’s decision to send his servant to find a wife for his son. Yes, he was getting on in years, but if you read on, you’ll see that after Isaac is all set up with a wife, Abraham takes up with Keturah and fathers 6 more children. Not too old, I guess. If I continued on this track, I could speak about hiring surrogates to care for your children, versus doing the job yourself. I sure didn’t want to go there
Another train of thought led me to ponder as to where Isaac was living since the Akedah. Was he at the Well of the Living One Who Sees with Ishmael? Had he deserted the father who had almost sacrificed him to live with his half brother and his fathers rejected concubine? Is it possible that the story of our revered ancestors is really just the story of a dysfunctional family, not much different from the rest of us? I really didn’t want to go there.
So, where do I want to go with this? I want to go in a positive direction. To find the love Abraham felt for his son, and for his God. The respect the servant had for his master and his masters God. And the love God had for the family he had chosen.
Yes, Abraham chose not to go back to Aram himself. He sent a surrogate, but there he was. A very wealthy man. Blessed with everything, but a daughter. The only monotheist living among idol worshiping, child sacrificers. Arranged marriage was probably the way to go. Where else was he to find the best matchmaker, but from his own household. In his favor, I’d have to say he chose wisely. He selected his eldest servant. A man who showed respect for the God of Abraham. A man who even felt comfortable enough with his master s God to as him for help in the task he was given. It has even been suggested that this servant , who many believe to be Eliezar, had a daughter he hoped would marry Isaac. And despite his disappointment, he did as he as asked. This could have been Abraham’s best means of securing the right bride for his son. A woman who would follow in Sarah s noble footsteps, in her righteous path. By having her brought to them, in Canaan, instead of sending Isaac there, Abraham insured that his descendants would not be influenced by the remaining idolaters in his family, they would remain in the land that God had promised them and keep the Covenant.
The relationship between Abraham’s servant, Eliezar and God is also an interesting one, too. While Abraham seems assured that the appropriate bride will be found, Eliezar is apprehensive. Maybe he won t find her. Maybe she will refuse to return with him. But, he is comfortable enough with the God of his master to ask him for a favor. He even hesitates before proposing his plan, to show his respect.
And God, what about him? He answers Eliezar’s prayer. Despite injunctions against omens and divinations, he gives exactly the sign asked for. He makes sure that there is continuity. Isaac will marry the right woman, one who possesses both generosity and chutzpah. A proper matriarch for the chosen people.
Doing the best you can for your child, showing respect, following directions against your own personal desires, as Teyve’s wife Golda would say, If that’s not love what is?