Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

The Modern Day Sacrifice (Vayikra – 4/1/17)

Rabbi Neil SchumanA young lady invites her new boyfriend to her apartment for a romantic dinner date. She says: “When you come into the front door lobby, look for apartment 29E, and with your elbow push the button.

Once inside, you’ll find the elevator on the right. With your elbow hit button 29. When you get out of the elevator you’ll find my apartment on the left. With your elbow, ring my doorbell and I’ll open the door for you”. The boyfriend says: “Darling, I’m thrilled about the invitation, but why do I have to use my elbow to press all the buttons”? “OMG”!!! she says, “You’re not coming empty-handed are you”?

Offerings are the theme of this week’s Torah reading, Vayikra.

Out of thanks, acknowledgement of the bounty, the blessings bestowed upon us we give something back to God.

A few years ago, Howard Shultz, the CEO of Starbucks went on a trip to Israel along with a bunch of other successful businessmen. They went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem, and had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel, the head of a Yeshivas Mir, a very large and influential yeshiva. “I had never heard of him and didn’t know anything about him. We went into his study and waited 10 to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened. What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn’t want to embarrass him.

We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: “Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now.” Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him.”

Now, the Yeshiva has a few thousand students, and can always use donations, so Rabbi Nosson Tzvi might have been a bit biased here, but this is what he asked: “Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” He called on one guy, who didn’t know what to do — it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, “We will never, ever forget?” The rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away — you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: “We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander.”

The rabbi said, “You guys just don’t get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit. As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp. After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, ‘Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'”

Rabbi Finkel said, “It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others.”

With that, he stood up and said, “Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”

The mindset of an offering is recognizing that one has been blessed, and that blessing (be they wealth, skills or talents) must be shared with others. Obviously, in our day and age we don’t need to share our bounty with God upon an altar,  but there’s a multiplicity of ways to bring an offering to God by sharing our blanket with others.

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