THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“And if he is poor, and his means are lacking, he shall take… two turtle doves or two pigeons” Leviticus 14:21-22
Some of our commentators argue the entire sacrificial service in the Temple was a complex symbolic system, teaching religious values. That means that every detail has some lesson for us to derive. Although many different categories of people were obliged to bring an offering, those sacrifices varied depending on an individual’s means. A rich person was expected to bring a more costly offering, whereas a poor person only needed to bring a pair of pigeons.
Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai noted both expensive and inexpensive offerings are described as a “sweet savour for the Lord”, because what mattered was not the sacrifice itself, or its cost, but the intention behind it. The “sweet savour” was not the smell of the meat, but produced when the offering was motivated by genuine religious feeling, when the one making the sacrifice turned their heart towards heaven.
Religious institutions are often caught in a quandary. They need money to continue to function. That can lead to a disproportionate concentration on money and those with money. The less well-off can be forgotten and become marginalised. On the other hand, if religious leaders were totally unaware of sources of funds, the community as a whole would be less successful and each member would suffer.
The clue to finding the right balance may come from the sacrificial system. The wealthy were allowed to bring more lavish offerings; they were expected to give according to their means. At the same time, each person’s contribution was assessed according to the most important measure; whether it was brought with proper intention and spiritual feeling. In that way, there could be offerings both large and small, and each could produce a “sweet savour”.
RABBI DR BENJAMIN ELTON