Home > D'vrei Torah > “The Love Offering”- d’var torah for Parashat Pinchas, 7-7-07

“The Love Offering”- d’var torah for Parashat Pinchas, 7-7-07

A d’var torah from 2007– my challenge was to figure out how I could tie in the Essence Festival, which was being celebrated that weekend in New Orleans, into the torah portion. I think it worked out.

The Love Offering

Those of you who are here for the beginning of services on a regular basis, as opposed to those of you who come just in time to have cottage cheese, know that at the beginning of the shacharit service, we read a selection of Talmudic texts. They’re found on pages 17-19 in the siddur, and we choose to read one of the four passages, normally the shortest one. It’s followed by the Kaddish De-Rabbanan, the special kaddish in which there is a paragraph which praises those teachers and students who engage in the study of Torah. The section gives us the opportunity to stop for a second, before the onset of the shacharit service, to study, to learn a little bit of torah, and to stimulate our minds so that we are mentally and spiritually ready for the morning prayers which lay ahead.

Making a Pilgrimage to the Temple

Second Temple Simulation (copyright Israel Antiquities Authority)

The section of the readings is a relatively new addition to the morning service— it used to be that during this part of shacharit, they would slaughter a lamb. Of course, that was before the new carpet was put in—this was in the time of the temple. Every day and every evening, the people of Israel were commanded as we read this morning in parashat Pinchas: “This is the offering made by fire which you shall offer to the Lord; two lambs of the first year, without spot, day by day, for a continual burnt offering. One lamb shall you offer in the morning, and the other shall you offer at evening.” And so every morning, immediately after dawn—a priest stationed on a nearby roof to the temple would announce that first light had struck, and the priests of the temple would go through an elaborate ritual to sacrifice the lamb and sprinkle its blood on the altar. They would then perform a meal offering- as commanded an ephah of flour mixed with the fourth part of a hin of beaten oil which the priests formed into what was essentially a griddle cake (and that’s also the basis of our pizza dough at my restaurant), and they would perform a drink offering with wine. After the sacrifices, the priests would descend from the altar to continue reciting prayers which were followed by bagels and schnapps provided by the holy Temple’s Men’s Club.

After the destruction of the temple, of course, the sacrifices stopped, and prayer and study became the substitute. In Orthodox prayer books during this part of Shacharit, they give an extended description of the korbanot, detailing what was sacrificed and the procedures used in case the Temple is rebuilt and the sacrifices are re-enacted. Unfortunately, the temple probably will not be rebuilt anytime soon, as the owners of the Temple are still waiting for their Road Home money. In our siddurim, however, we acknowledge the sacrifices that were done in temple times, but we don’t have the desire to see them re-enacted. Instead, our siddur, as an introduction to the section which would have contained the description of the sacrifices, provides a passage from the Talmud.

Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai once was walking with his disciple Rabbi Joshua near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Joshua looked at the Temple ruins and said: “Alas for us! The place which atoned for the sins of the people Israel through the ritual of animal sacrifice lies in ruins!” Then Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: “Be not grieved, my son. There is another way of gaining atonement even though the Temple is destroyed. We must now gain atonement through deeds of lovingkindness.” For it is written, “Lovingkindness I desire, not sacrifice.”

Indeed, as we read in Hosea, G-d says that burnt-offerings aren’t as important as loyalty, mercy, and loving-kindness. The passages that we read at the beginning of shacharit discuss how we can achieve atonement, no longer with burnt offerings but with love offerings, to lovingly perform mitzvot for others—to walk in G-d’s footsteps and to follow in His image.

But what does this mean for holidays? In this morning’s parsha, we read not only about the sacrifices offered every morning and evening, but the extra offerings, the lagniappe, if you will, for Shabbat, holidays, and Rosh Hodesh. In reading this week’s parsha, we’re faced with a strange case of déjà vu. Haven’t we read this before? Yep—the section we read this morning contains the maftir readings from which we read on these special days. On every Jewish holiday—either the entire reading or the maftir reading comes from Parashat Pinchas.

On the holidays, instead of just a lamb, the commandment was to offer an olat tamid, a burnt offering, of parim (bulls), eilim (rams), and kvasim (sheep), the wine and pizza offerings as we talked about earlier, and a se’ir izim, a goat for a sin offering. The quantity varied depending on the holiday. It’s always one goat, 7 sheep, except on Sukkot, when it’s 14 per day, and 1 or 2 rams. And the amount of bulls could be as many as 1 on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to 13 on the first day of Sukkot.  On the first day of Sukkot, they sacrificed 30 animals and fried a turkey. What did this show? On Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, and holidays we were commanded to give an extra offering. We read about it in the amidah during every musaf service. So how do we translate this in the post-temple era? Now that we don’t have sacrifices, what is the extra offering that we can make as a substitution?

Shabbat and our festivals give us the perfect chance to make another love offering in lieu of our burnt offerings. The opportunity to enhance Shabbat and Yom Tov and spend it with the ones we love—to every week make it a point to have a special Friday night dinner—to clean the house, to turn off the tv, to gather the family, say Kiddush and hamotze, to bless the children. In our home, our dog knows that it’s Shabbat. He sits patiently while we sing Kiddush because he knows that his little treat is coming up– he’s going to get a little piece of challah—the only table scrap that he’s allowed is once a week on Shabbat.

My Sukkah

"Mr. Will, what is this thing you are building?"

Festivals give us a chance to do something extra in preparation and in celebration—to clean the house for Passover, to have special family meals, to build a Sukkah (which you should do if no other reason, than to try explain to a group of workers who don’t speak English and who have spent the last several months redoing your house, why all of a sudden you’re building a hut in your backyard). We’re commanded on these special occasions to do a little something extra—to offer a little lagniappe, an extra love offering to G-d and to others.

But it’s the middle of summer. Why are we concentrating on festivals now? Sukkot is not for a few more months. Shavuot was over six weeks ago. Parashat Pinchas gives us the chance to have a little Christmas in July, as it were.  As it often falls in the Jewish calendar, we read this parasha during the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, the period between the time that the Romans broke through Jerusalem’s walls and the eventual destruction of the Temple. It’s customary for this to be a period of mourning—we don’t have weddings, we don’t get haircuts, and some avoid big parties and concerts. So parashat Pinchas gives us a little reminder of happy times. Hey, remember the holidays—we’re in the middle of summer in a time of mourning, but think happy thoughts and remember the good times that we have on Jewish holidays. As you’re reading the parsha and learning about the sacrifices offered during these Festivals, we think about the Essence of Judaism and the spirit that makes up our holy days.

On Shabbat and holidays, it’s up to us to do a little something extra. To do an extra mitzvah—to have an offering for the Temple. And since today is not one of the festivals listed in the Torah, we still locally are celebrating Hag HaTamzit, the Festival of Essence. Plus, we just celebrated Independence Day during which I wrote the bulk of this dvar torah while sitting upstairs in my restaurant. So instead of a burnt offering for this Festival, which was probably accomplished in many a backyard barbecue, let’s figure out an Act of Lovingkindness we can do as a special Love Offering. As you go through your daily routine, think about what you can do as another act of lovingkindness. Give a little something extra to tzedaka. Tip your waiter or bartender. Slow down and let someone merge into the lane ahead of you instead of speeding up to get in front. Pay someone a compliment. Mow a neighbor’s lawn. Mow our lawn. Tell your children why you love them. Open a door for someone. Pick up a piece of trash that’s on the sidewalk. Call an elderly neighbor and see if they need anything. Wake up early tomorrow morning, come to minyan, and stay to volunteer for Nearly New. While you’re at it, bring your newspapers to our recycling bins in the parking lot.

The list goes on and on, and while you’re researching the website for the virtual reality second temple simulation that we talked about at the beginning of the torah reading {which can be found here}, surf on over to actsofkindness.org and read about thousands of random acts of kindness that are being done and that you can do. On this Shabbat, we remember the offerings and sacrifices made long ago in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. As we sit in this holy temple in Metairie, let us commit to performing Acts of Lovingkindness, which are a lot less smelly than carting around a few goats and bulls, but which let us show our devotion to G-d and help us realize that each one of us is created in His image.  Amen.

Will Samuels

Shir Chadash, 7/7/07

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Categories: D'vrei Torah
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