Friday, March 23, 2007

Give it Some Thought.

Verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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This week Lauviticus does Leviticus – the third book of the five opens with a divine call to worship, followed by endless instructions and recipes for specifics of this complex worship – the appropriate operational maintenance of the holy tent. Other than serving as the resting place for God’s presence on earth, the tabernacle functioned as the nerve center of the newly formed Hebraic Cult – focusing on the ongoing exchange of human gifts and Divine favor. The technical term for this exchange system is known in English as ‘sacrifice’ derived from the Latin word for ‘sacred’. Throughout the ancient world, sacrifices (mostly of animals and vegetation, though is some cases of humans) were the primal and primary method of celebrating the connection between earth and heaven, life and death. The food would be most often divided between the people present, the rest would burn on the altar as the smoke would rise vertically and reach heaven, and a visceral, sensory experience offered divine consolations, expiation, and healing to the person in need.
What of this ancient technology lingers today? And what of the semantics of this discontinued praxis continues to play a role in our contemporary
forms of worship and social interaction? As usual, we find that some of
the intricate meaning of this concept is lost in translation, and in this case the word in question is the very root of the matter. The word ‘Korban’
– most often translated as ‘offering’, appears at the very top of the book, Chapter 1, verse 2:

Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When any of you bring an offering of livestock to the LORD, you shall bring your offering from the herd or from the flock. (JPS)

‘Offering’ is the most popular way of translating ‘Korban’, followed by ‘sacrifice’. The Targum, gives us the old fashioned "oblation," and Everett Fox gives us "near-offering," which captures the root meaning in the word korban, which means "to come near."

Clearly all this offering of grain and animal was in part the practical
means by which the priests, who did not work otherwise, were fed, and the
God they served was propitiated. But it was also the means by which the common person experienced some connection to the sacrificial cult, some drawing near. The offering was a sacrifice in part because it meant giving up some part of your capital, maybe even a part of your very being – a substitution for self.

What might be the equivalent for us in the modern world of the act of korban? What might we do that could cost us something and bring us closer to the mystery of life, death, past and future? What other words may best address this system of spiritual intimacy – succeeding where ‘offering’ or ‘sacrifice’ simply seem too archaic and bloody?

In the late 19th century, a German Jewish scholar by the name of Samson Raphael Hirsch wrestled with the German translation of the sacrificial concept, concluding that ‘ It is most regrettable that we have no word which really reproduces the idea which lies in the expression Korban… this term is used exclusively with reference to man's relation to God and can only be understood from the meaning which lies in its root, KRV: to approach, to come near, and so to get into close relationship with the Divine.’

So what do you call the act of meditation, or a gym work out, or a fundraising campaign, or volunteering at a soup kitchen – all valid ways of dealing with one’s issues and coming closer to one’s self, and one’s community, via an active performance of sorts. Maybe the key here is the word ‘give’, in all its ramifications. And so Lauviticus would like to
suggest: ‘You shall bring your Giving’.

We’d LOVE feedback on this one. GIVE IT SOME THOUGHT!


  1. Audio's not there. Can you re-up?

  2. Our Rabbi asserts that in the Diaspora, our prayers take the place of sacrifices. I think that this satisfies the sense of drawing near to God that "Korban" means.

  3. I think you are right to avoid "sacrifice" as translation for _korban_. Sacrifice has acquired extraneous meanings. But perhaps you go far afield with "the act of meditation, or a gym work out, or a fundraising campaign, or volunteering at a soup kitchen – all valid ways of dealing with one’s issues and coming closer to one’s self, and one’s community, via an active performance of sorts." I'd suggest "synagogue pledges or dues" as the modern equivalent of korban. The early rabbis argued that prayers replace korban, but t'filah is really a different sort of engagement from giving.

  4. I think the intention, kavanah, is all important here. If you are going to the gym as a way to get closer to Hashem, than I think this can be considered as a form of post-modern _korban_. However, if this or other acts are strictly secular, how does that relate to this parshat? It is one thing to say that everything I do brings me closer to the divine, but if you do it without intention, without conscious thought or conscious presence, I think you are decieving yourself.

    I believe that fundraising and social action can be sacred activities. Again, though, I think one's intention is critical. If all you are focused on is the money, the end stage, you are missing the very vital, very sacred, very tachlis of the process. Giving when done in service of a higher purpose, a greater goal than one's own self- (or community-) aggrandizement, is _korban_for the Jew today.

  5. Exciting to have all your thougtful comments!
    I agree with the focus on INTENTION as key factor for determining the quality of the 'offering' and 'giving' aspect of one's dedication to growth.
    As Passover draws near and the house cleaning is gruellingly a reality, one wonders about the reality of sacrificing time and cleaning prodcuts (NOT tested on animals as ways of mixing intentions labor and sweat on the road to the full moon sacrifical rite..

  6. I want to say here that this blog has changed my relationship to Judaism: broadened it, related it to (some of ) my "other" identities, encouraged reflection and invited expression. These are rare experiences for me in this world and are so genuinely appreciated.

    With all of this attention on INTENTION, I do want to say that follow through and the actualizing of good intentions are also critical activities, manifestations of said intention. Intention alone does not a better world make.

  7. We're with naomi. But does that mean our brachot are korbanotletts?