THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM JUDAISM -

Tazria-Met­zora

“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

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