Updated: Apr 3, 2020
We are in the midst of reading the first portion of Leviticus, know in Hebrew as Vayikra--ויקרא. Leviticus is among the most inaccessible books
of the Torah. Leviticus speaks of sacrifice...a worthwhile concept for us to understand at this moment.
What is a sacrifice? According to the opening verses of Vayikra:
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם אָדָ֗ם כִּֽי־יַקְרִ֥יב מִכֶּ֛ם קָרְבָּ֖ן לַֽיהוָ֑ה מִן־הַבְּהֵמָ֗ה מִן־הַבָּקָר֙ וּמִן־הַצֹּ֔אן תַּקְ
Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the LORD, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.
In this kind of sacrifice, a person is being asked to take something of value that cannot easily be replaced--or even ever be replaced offer it to God. That's a sacrifice of a type with which we are not all that familiar.
Previous generations were most certainly familiar with this kind of sacrifice. Grandparents and great-grandparents who
worked long hours, never took a vacation, rarely purchased 'luxury' items and saved every penny to send their children to college, to medical school and to law school. Passed down through the generations, too, are the stories of older brothers and sisters who had to go to work to help a younger sibling go to college. Or children that left college to help the family business and rather than become a lawyer, became the owner of a plumbing supply store or a scrap business. Then, of course, are the more than 400,000 young men and women who were killed during World War II--the ultimate sacrifice.
In recent times, we think of a sacrifice in less stark terms. We think of asking our children to sacrifice a present during Hanukkah to give to a less fortunate family. But, really, that's not what a sacrifice is. A sacrifice is forgoing something you can not easily get back--or ever get back, for the sake of a greater good.
At this moment, our generation is presented with our opportunity to make a real sacrifice. We are being called, just as Moses was called, to stay at home to fight against COVID19. This isn't a meaingless, empty gesture. We must think of ourselves as soldiers going to war--though our 'front' is being fought in our homes.
By staying at home to the greatest degree possible, we are making it possible for health care professionals to fight on our behalf on the front lines of this war. If we can flatten the curve, as they say, we make sure that suffering people can get the medical care they need. We can avoid the painful decisions that are being made in Italy.
This is a sacrifice in the spirit of Leviticus. Many of us will be laid-off from work, will find our business reduced, be cut off from our family, spend Passover alone. This is difficult. But, to paraphrase the words of President Kennedy, we must do this not because it is easy but because it is hard. Yet, I am sure we can all agree that there is nothing more important than this goal: working to ensure we can all be together next Passover in good health and surrounded by all of our loved ones.
When you are in your home, feeling the justifiable angst of this moment, know that you are making a sacrifice precisely as important as the sacrifice made in WWII or by your great parents leaving the land of their birth to come to this country. This is the generation-defining sacrifice of our age. And, like the Greatest Generation, we will prevail and we will once again join together in great celebration.