Rabbi Ain Sermon March 24, 2018

Tzav 2018 What are we sacrificing?

I turned the television on, on Tuesday morning, when I saw breaking news over CNN “Another School Shooting at a Maryland High School.” I stopped in my tracks to make sure that the shooting wasn’t where my sister works. Or where friend’s children go to school. Not that it should matter of course, since any school shooting anywhere is horrible. I couldn’t believe it. Again? In the week leading up to the March on Our Lives?

In thinking about this in preparation for this week’s parasha, I was immediately drawn to the concept of sacrifice.

What are we sacrificing

RABBI DAN ORNSTEIN, in reflecting on the book of Leviticus, writes: Leviticus 1:2 begins God’s instructions concerning the sacrificial offerings with the following words: Adam ki yakriv mi-kem korban… When any of you presents an offering… The Hebrew words, Adam and mi-kem,, “When any of you.” However, translated literally, the words mean, “When any person from among you.” Looking at these words, the rabbis of the Talmud sensed that the Hebrew word, mi-kem, “from among you.” Read even more literally, this compound word, mi-kem, actually means, “a part of you.” Based upon the strange features of these words, the Talmud concluded that we should read them in this way: “When you offer a sacrificial offering it must be mi-kem, a part of you,”

Can a sacrifice be a part of us? Yes, for sure. And in any other year, this is how I would choose to teach this verse. That as we think about sacrifices, i would say that that must mean that to sacrifice we need to give something of ourselves.

But today, I want to challenge ourselves to realize that while there are things we must sacrifice, we must not go to far. We must not sacrifice ourselves for a sacred cow of guns. Does this mean I am trying to take away all guns? No. In fact, if we look at societies like Israel, there is a comfort level and familiarity with guns but we aren’t seeing this kind of violence.

And yet, in our world, in our communities, we see sacrifices before our eyes. As Rabbi Dan Orenstein writes, in relationship to the concept of sacrifice in the book of Vayikra, “Right now, America’s children, our children, are protesting with anguished vigor the unconscionable offering by adults to a most unholy and false god: that unconscionable offering is our children themselves, that false god is a dictatorially powerful, rabidly irrational, morally ossified gun lobby. The nation-wide student walk outs and the National March For Our Lives in Washington, DC are a loud message which our children are sending to us, the adults, who should be caring for them: “You have no right to sacrifice us. We are not your korbanot, your lambs who you can send to the slaughter.

In fact, this reminds me of the tragic statement of Golda Meir w/regard to the conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs when she said:

-Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.

In our time it would mean: Peace will come when we love our children more than we love our guns.

As Jews we scoff at child sacrifice but we must ask, is this what we have been doing?

As Rabbi Orenstein writes: As an American, I also understand the need to reasonably protect Americans’ second amendment rights. However, the National Rifle Association has gone too far by overreacting wildly to every call for gun use regulation, as a mortal threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How about our children’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? How about the rights of innocent movie goers, college students, concert goers, ordinary Americans, to be protected from being murdered by angry, violent people who, in many states, can simply walk into a big box store or gun shop and purchase a military style assault weapon

But here is the thing: Judaism teaches that the safety needs of the public take precedence over the desires of the individual. We must understand some core teachings in our tradition to understand why this issue today is real. And present. And an issue that Judaism struggles with. This isn’t an issue of politics alone. This is an issue of our how our tradition gives a window into behavior. For if we can’t link our tradition and our world, what good is our tradition.

In Leviticus we read: Don’t Stand Idly By the Blood of Your Neighbor

In the Mishneh Torah, written by Maimonides we learn,

And of course, a week from today we will be singing DAYENU. IT IS ENOUGH.

Recently, in NY Magazine, Eric Levitz wrote the following:

It’s been two weeks since a heavily armed psychopath turned Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School into a war zone — and the survivors of that massacre have already changed gun politics in the United States for the better.

With their acts of witness and advocacy, the teenage protesters of Parkland, Florida, shook many voters out of their complacency about pervasive gun violence. Upwards of 30,000 people lose their lives to firearms in our nation each year, a level of carnage unparalleled anywhere in the developed world. And yet, last October — just days after the worst mass shooting in American history — the one in Las Vegas: only 52 percent of Americans told CNN’s pollsters that they supported “stricter gun laws.”

Today, that figure is 70 percent — the highest it’s been at any time since 1993.

The Parkland teenagers, and the movement they have launched, has made a vital contribution to American politics. They’ve stiffened the spines of Democratic gun safety advocates; unnerved Republican NRA stooges; improved the prospects of meaningful gun reform at the federal level in the medium-term; and provided a model of civic engagement to a rising generation whose political participation our country desperately needs.

Just a few weeks ago we gathered in the sanctuary and we read from the book of Esther. We were reminded of our obligation, when we have a voice, to use it. As Mordechai said to Esther:  “if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” –Mordechai to Esther

In the book of Esther, when Esther is hesitant to speak out about the threat of violence her people face, Mordechai says the above to her. But let’s be clear- We are not guaranteed that deliverance will come from elsewhere–we must be the agents of our own life-saving.

(please “We Will March”
A prayer before March for Our Lives by Rabbi Naomi Levy

We will march
For our children’s sake
We will march
Because standing still is not an option
We will march
Because a new day is coming
We will march
Young and old, hand in hand
We will march
Like the Children of Israel at the foot of the sea
We will march
Until the raging waters part before us
We will march
Until our leaders act
We will march
In honor of the innocent souls we have lost
We will march
Turning the prayers of our hearts into action
We will march
“Praying with our feet”
We will march
To the beat of a mournful lament
We will march
With our heads held high
We will march
To finally end the madness
We will march
Rejoicing in triumph
We will march
And we will win, by God,
We will win.

Today, we are celebrating a baby naming. We have welcomed Rebecca Jolie into our sanctuary. A place of safety. Schools, Shuls, Theaters. These should all be sanctuaries. And just as we hope for a life of Torah-learning, Chuppah, loving-And Gemilut Chasadim-Acts of Kindness to Rebecca, so may we extend those blessings to our country’s children.

And finally-let us think about the three fold priestly blessing, but shift it a bit. Here is my final prayer in thinking about our children: May we walk with them. May we learn from them. And may God grant all of us peace.