Blog Post : "Perfect Sacrifice. Does God Demand Perfection" By Rabbinic Intern, Nikki DeBlosi
"Perfect Sacrifice. Does God Demand Perfection" By Rabbinic Intern, Nikki DeBlosi | erica.frankel | Apr 29, 2013
This week’s Torah portion, Emor, has multiple references to both priests and sacrifices (the animals offered on the altar of the Temple) needing to be “without blemish”:
“Speak to Aaron, saying: Any man among your offspring throughout their generations אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בוֹ מוּם who has a defect [or blemish], shall not come near to offer up his God's food” (Leviticus 21:17).
The kinds of “blemishes” the Torah outlines are ones we recognize as things over which we have little control—natural accidents of birth or results of tragedy and trauma: “A blind or a lame person, or one with a sunken nose or with mismatching limbs; or a person who has a broken leg or a broken arm; or one with long eyebrows, or a cataract, or …” the list goes on (Leviticus 21:18-19).
Here, the Torah seems to suggest that in order to offer a sacrifice, a korban, something that is supposed to help us maintain a close relationship to God, to help us “draw near” to God, lekarev—we need to be perfect. Both in ourselves and in our offerings. We need to be perfect to approach God…
And not only that, but it seems to be a superhuman kind of perfection—because lots of people are differently-abled, living meaningful—and full—lives while being judged unfairly by society as lesser than, as outside… We would hope God would draw us all near.
What a time of year to be thinking about perfection… and to be wondering, Does God need my offering to be perfect? Does God need ME to be perfect?
Finals. Graduate School Admissions. Fellowships. Summer Jobs. Resumes and CVs. Tenure. Internships and Fall Classes and Majors and Minors. Grades and Transcripts. There are a million and one messages you receive every day that tell you: Be perfect. Nothing less than perfect will do.
So now some Rabbi is telling you that the Torah demands perfection, too!? It’s Shabbat! Give us a rest! We get so caught up in perfection, we are paralyzed from drawing near to the very things that lend our lives meaning, link us to tradition, and nourish our souls. And sometimes we confuse our offerings for ourselves, demanding perfection at all costs in all things, and nearly unraveling when our offerings fail to be accepted in the way we had hoped or expected. We tell ourselves that the animal we sacrifice must be without blemish, and we, like the priest, must also be without blemish: An “A” for the course and an “A” for us.
And sometimes we don’t even know what counts as a “blemish” – it seems like every little misstep disqualifies our offering, nullifies the sacrifices we have made. If they’re not perfect, they don’t count. We drop them from the transcript and ask to start over... But there’s something I remind myself when I read these chapters in Leviticus, with all their blood and sacrifice, all their unblemished goats and perfect priests in their fancy outfits…
I remind myself that we don’t have a Temple anymore in which we perform AVODAH, the service of blood and fire and animals and meal offerings. We don’t make sacrifices like this anymore. Instead, we have prayer. We have avodah shebalev, the service of the heart.
We have the regular practice of gathering in community, of being alone together, of reciting ancient words and finding in them links to our own lives. We have communal prayer and we have silent, personal prayer, too. We have prayers for healing for ourselves and our world. We have memorials for our dead.
What does perfect service, the perfect sacrifice, look like now? Now that we have avodah shebalev?
The perfect service of the heart is what is perfectly true and honest for you. It is being self-reflective, and sometimes self-critical, but it is taking the responsibility for self-care, too. It is offering all of what lies in your heart—with no concern about anything being “without blemish,” because there is no external scale by which I can measure your heart. How can the service of your heart be perfect? If it is open. If it mirrors both your rational self and your emotional self. If it engages your memories and your hopes and your fears.
Whatever it is, it will be perfect. Rabbi Nikki's full blog can be found here.