(Redux and Updated 5760/61)
In D'varim 17:1 we are instructed that we must not offer a sacrifice to G"d that has a defect. But we no longer sacrifice animals to G"d as we are without a holy Temple. So we offer the offerings of our lips, the sacrifices of our minds, our possessions, our time, and our hearts.
But as we are so often reminded this time of year, it now being Elul, we are quite imperfect ourselves - rather "defective." So, how is it that these sacrifices from the lips, minds and hearts of "defective" people are acceptable to G"d?
Is it our superior status as human beings, being made b'tzelem Elokim, that allows imperfect animals to be unacceptable, but the offerings of imperfect humans to be perfectly acceptable? That sounds pretty haughty. There is lots in the Torah to support this view of superior humanity - but I submit a more careful reading of the text can yield layers of complexity that cloud and obscure such a simple understanding that humans are superior to the animals. So perhaps it is not our mere humanness that makes the offerings from our imperfect selves acceptable.
Perhaps the offerings from our imperfect selves are acceptable to G"d because it is understood that we are imperfect. After all, to some, only G"d is perfect - we must be less than that, and therefore inherently defective. But surely animals, as even lower than humans, are even more imperfect, more inherently defective? Perhaps this is why the Torah specifies that it is an animal with a "serious" defect (as the JPS renders "mum kol davar ra") that is unfit for sacrifice?
So, is this not our answer for human? That it must be a "serious" defect, that renders us unfit? It seems an easy out. But how do we define "serious" defect for ourselves? A physical one (see my earlier musings on the subject of the Hebrew term "mum") ? Mental? Emotional? Transgressing specific commandments? Perhaps it is quantitative-how may commandments we have transgressed during a given period, or our entire life?
None of this means anything. For it is all backwards. It is not G"d that cares about the defect in the ox or sheep. It is the owner-the one making the sacrifice. Offering a defective sacrifice is like skimping. G"d wanted our best sheep and oxen-a demonstration of our love-just as G"d asked Avraham to sacrifice Yitchak.
And so it is with ourselves and our offerings. If our offerings are given sincerely, if we are not withholding the best sheep or oxen of our hearts or minds, then our sacrifices, our offerings, are acceptable to G"d.
May we all love G"d enough that when we offer the offerings of our lips, our lives, our minds, our hearts, that when we do so we are offering up our best sheep and oxen-that we are giving more than just a gesture, at least expense to ourselves.
And, sometimes, the greatest offering we can make to G"d is to offer up and get rid of our own defects, our shortcomings, those things that cause us to transgress, to be less than we can be, to offer up less than we can as an offering! After all, it is Elul. Time to start thinking about these things. I'd better stop now before my circular argumentation begins to collapse in on itself.
© 2007, 2001, 2000 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha
Shoftim 5765/5759-Whose Justice?
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