Have We Sacrificed the Idea of Sacrifice?

What should we make of sacrifices in days of old?

While the sacrifices prescribed in the Bible don’t resemble on the surface anything we might do in our own time, our instinctive need to make offerings is as strong today as it ever was. It doesn’t come in the form of grains and animals on an altar any longer, but it does come in the form of prayer, meditation, devotion, or other service or resources of value.

As in days of old, God expects us, and is always available to us, to come near. Indeed the very word in Hebrew we most associate with sacrifice, korban, means to come near.

As in days of old, “the fire burns always,” inviting us to come near.

As in days of old, all of us, regardless of means, are to come near, with what we can afford to bring.

As in days of old, there is no offering more treasured by God than one of well-being, personally brought by us, whether given out of thanksgiving or simple free will.

As in days of old, God calls us forward, perhaps with the help of a minister or teacher or perhaps by our own God-endowed conscience or soul, with offerings at times of need.

As in days of old and the new, God blesses us with the ways of coming near.

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Setting the Whole Heart

We begin Exodus with God absent from the people. By the end, God is very much present. We start in slavery. We end in freedom, in service to God.

The great 13th century sage, Nachmanides (Ramban), memorializes  this journey beautifully in the conclusion to his commentary on the book:

  • “Thus is completed the Book of Redemption,
  • In which the Eternal, the God of Israel, hath entered
  • Even for the children of Israel, a people near unto Him. 
  • He saved him from the hand of him that hated him,
  • And redeemed him from the hand of his enemy. 
  • And blessed be God
  • Who delighted in the peace of His servant,
  • Who has helped him to come thus far,
  • Who renews his youth in his old age,
  • Who satisfies his hunger with His Torah,
  • And He made him to suck honey and the fat thereof. 
  • For he set his whole heart (to seek God),
  • And to His Name he offers blessings morning and evening. 
  • Blessed be He of Whose bounty we have partaken,
  • And through Whose goodness we live.”