April 19, 2024
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Sacrifices in Days of Old and New

Sacrifice has been part of the human experience since the beginning of time. The concept of sacrifice is first introduced to us by the Torah in Parshat Bereishit. Cain was a farmer and he sacrificed something that mattered to him, offering a present of fruit to God; Abel was a shepherd and he too brought something that mattered to him, one of his flock, to God. It appears that the first offerings to God were initiated by man, not commanded by God. Man apparently has an innate need to give back, to sacrifice. The result of these first offerings to God, however, was a negative one, as it led to the murder of a man by his own brother.

In this week’s reading of Parshat Vayera, we learn about Akeidat Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac. We are all familiar with this story, in which God commands Abraham to take his beloved son and offer him on an altar as a sacrifice. Throughout history, through our prayers, we often “remind” God of Abraham’s willingness to heed His painful commandment and to sacrifice his own son. We ask for kindness, leniency in judgment and many other requests as a kind of “payback” for the akeida, the sacrifice of all sacrifices. And in the Beit Hamikdash, of course, animal and other sacrifices were part of the daily service.

In modern times, we do not have an instinct to sacrifice burnt offerings to God as a thank you, nor are the commandments regarding sacrificial offerings applicable to us, and yet, we do have to make sacrifices in both our religious and our personal lives every day that do not require animals or fire. Sacrifice today is driven by a different force. We want something, whether material or spiritual in nature, and we are willing to sacrifice something, e.g., money, time, sleep, autonomy, etc. in order to achieve or acquire that which we want.

I recently read an amazing book titled “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” by Atul Gawande, a practicing general surgeon. The book explores the amazing benefits of modern medicine, but at the same time reflects upon the inability to accept the inevitable process of aging and dying. The goal in the case of the aged and dying is to extend life, and in the process, the interest of the human spirit is often lost. Gawande writes, “Medical professionals concentrate on the repair of health, not the sustenance of the soul… If safety and protection were all we sought in life, perhaps we could conclude differently… We seek a life of worth and purpose and yet are routinely denied.” We often require the elderly to sacrifice their autonomy, their self-worth and their privacy for the sake of their safety, but is it always worth it? Who gets to make that decision?

This book stirred up many thoughts about some of the decisions that were made about the care of my own father when he was old and not well. Near the end of his life, he was unable to walk to shul due to his heart condition, so he bought a Shabbat scooter in order to be able to get to shul independently. I remember how concerned we all were about him driving the scooter, as he was by that time blind in one eye and his vision in the other eye was poor. Technically, it was not safe for him to go to shul on his own, but he was not willing to sacrifice davening with a minyan on Shabbat and listening to leining just for the sake of safety. Was that the “right” decision?

Think about the things you do indeed sacrifice for on a daily basis. We value Jewish education for our children. Tuition crisis or no crisis, the majority of us continue to struggle and pay for school because we maintain that it is valuable. We sacrifice sleep for our children—when they are small they wake us up and when they are older they keep us up. We want to live in nice homes, eat out in restaurants, drive nice cars, go away on vacation and have nice things. To afford all that, we often need to get up early, work long hours, spend time sitting in traffic, miss family events—but we do it because that is the sacrifice we make for the things that are important to us. I am in awe of women I know who struggle with infertility and I see what they are willing to put their bodies through in order to have a child. Or what people with a diagnosis of cancer are willing to sacrifice in order to fight the disease or prevent recurrence.

Recently, I have asked some of my clients about their health, and urged them to think about and then verbalize what it is that they want and what sacrifices they are willing to make and not to make in order to achieve their goals. The process of working all of that out has been powerful. One client who is a pre-diabetic was willing to cut all added sugar out of her diet, except on Shabbat, when she allows herself one small piece of dark chocolate. Another client who wanted to improve his health and flexibility was willing to wake up early to exercise and practice yoga. On the other hand, yet another client wants to lose weight but does not want to be too restricted with her food intake.

Is there something in your life that you want? What sacrifices will you need to make to achieve your goal? What sacrifices will you be unwilling to make? Your own answers may surprise you!

By Beth Taubes

 Beth Taubes RN, OCN, CBCN, CHC,CYT, is the owner of Wellness Motivations LLC. She motivates clients of all backgrounds, ages and health conditions to engage in improved self-care through nutritional counseling, fitness training, yoga practice and stress-reduction techniques. Sign up for her“Get Fit For Fall” program. Gift certificates available. Beth can be reached at [email protected] or

 

 

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