The directive to offer sacrifices – the central theme of this week’s Torah portion – presented the Hebrew nation with a new, deeper way by which to bond with their Maker. Past demonstrations of open miracles found the people as passive players on the majestic stage of divine orchestration. Even the construction of the tabernacle, which demonstrated atonement and a divine willingness to dwell more intimately amongst the people, could not independently effectuate a strong, enduring sense of connection. While the people had contributed to its construction, the structure ultimately represented the basis for a special connection, not the connection itself.
This bond was to be achieved through the offering of sacrifices. Sacrifices were not primarily means through which the owner would offer a material possession as the means of achieving atonement or currying favor. Rather, they presented each individual with the possibility to draw close to God and develop a special relationship with his Creator.
It is most regrettable that we have no word which really reproduces the idea which lies in the expression of “korban” (sacrifice). The unfortunate use of the term “sacrifice” implies giving up something that is of value to oneself for the benefit of another, or having to do without something of value, ideas not only entirely absent from the nature and idea of “korban”, but diametrically opposed to it… (Korban) is used exclusively with reference to Man’s relationship to God, and can only be understood from the meaning which lies in its root, “k-r-v”, meaning to approach, to come near, and so get into a close relationship. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, commentary to Leviticus 1:2)
Through the personal closeness that was created by the offering of sacrifices, the tabernacle became more than a place where the divine presence could reside. It became an “ohel moed”, a tent of communion, where God and His people could achieve the loftiest spiritual connection. “And there (in the ohel moed) I will meet with you, and I will talk with you.” (Exodus 25:22)
Naturally, the goal in this relationship goes beyond communion and even personal communication. In describing the commandment to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5), Rabbi Hirsch explains that to love God is to focus all of our goals and energies towards serving Him. He notes that the Hebrew word for ‘love’, ahava, comes from ‘hav’, a word that means either to give or to.
Similarly, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler spoke about building loving relationships through giving. He wrote that when we give to another, we invest a portion of ourselves in that person. Doing so allows and encourages us to see them as an extension of ourselves, which invariably means that we will view them more favorably. Therefore, in order for us to fulfill the commandment to love God properly we need to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to God and His commandments.
Of course, the need to develop close relationships, ones that are filled with open communication, respect, and even emotional connection, extends well beyond our spiritual endeavors. While relationship building often does require some form of personal sacrifice, in the form of time, resources and the like, the investment should be viewed in terms of what we will gain by making the effort rather than what we stand to lose.
In today’s busy society it can be difficult to find the time and energy to invest in relationships. We spend much of our time cutting corners, finding quick, easy ways to make good on our many responsibilities, both personal and professional. Conversations are oftentimes kept short and impersonal, all in the name of busyness (if not business).
However, such relational dexterity comes with a price. While we may rationalize our superficial, distant relating as a necessary outgrowth of 21st century living, we must be cognizant of the fact that others most often don’t see it that way. When we offer quick, impersonal responses, take our time to respond to messages or email, arrive late and leave early to meetings and engagements, etc. we convey a clear message that the other person or event is not of particular importance to us.
How can we meet our various interpersonal responsibilities and objectives while making sure that we do so the right way? How can we connect with those that are most important to us in a manner that demonstrates genuine respect while also deepening our relationships?
One way is to become an active listener and a conscientious correspondent. When having conversation, make it your only item of business at that moment. Focus your eyes on the speaker and recap what you have heard to ensure clarity and convey genuine interest. Do not attempt to multitask, such as checking emails or other tasks, even when you are on the phone and not visible to the listener. If your attention is fragmented, it will come through.
If you are at an event, make sure that you are noticed. You may not be able to stay for long, but find ways to let the hosts know that you came and enjoyed your time. A few well-spent minutes are worth more than an hour of quiet presence.
Another approach is more time consuming and may prove quite challenging, but it is certainly well worth the effort. Work to identify and prioritize your core values and aspirations, particularly as they intersect with your relationships. What is truly important to you? How can you find more time to spend in those areas and find ways to divest your schedule of lesser matters? Often, this process is best achieved through the creation of a personal mission statement. A coach, guide or mentor can be helpful here in asking the hard questions that drill down on what is truly important.
Once you arrive at some answers, you can see how they fit into your present reality. Not only will this offer new direction, but it will also strengthen your self-identity. Self-identity emerges from the way that we balance such components as work, family, relationships, study, spiritual pursuits and community service, and is critical to managing the conflict between competing domains.
From there, consider sharing your values and mission with those that they impact most. Give your relatives, friends and coworkers a window into how you value and budget your time. This can help them better understand your actions and appreciate your perspective.
Sacrifices teach us that the secret of a deep relationship is the investment behind it. Devoting time, resources, and, most importantly, interest and undivided attention, can pay hefty dividends in achieving the closeness and meaningful relationships that we all seek.