It’s your wife’s birthday. Orchids are her favorite flower. A bouquet is going to set you back about $150.
You have a series of choices:
The florist has some old orchids he’ll give you for $40.
Buy some wild flowers — $15 max.
Get her the great wrench set you’ve always wanted (at least it won’t die after a week).
Buy the $150 orchids.
Give her cash and let her make the tough decisions.
Now isn’t number five the most rational answer? Didn’t we evolve out of the barter system so that we get what we want instead of three sheep and two pounds of potatoes when we sell the family cow?
How is it that this ancient custom of guessing and agonizing over a present still remains?
In this week’s Torah portion we read about sacrifices, which to the modern ear sounds very strange. But in truth it shouldn’t be, because it’s not the concept that is the problem, it’s the translation.
The Hebrew word used for sacrifice is korban. As Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (19th century German leader) points out, korban has its roots in the concept of “being close.” No word in the English language approaches a good translation, though conceptually it’s what we call a present.
When you give your wife a gift, it isn’t a sacrifice (at least it shouldn’t be). It isn’t even the most effective way of getting her what she wants — give her the cash. So why do we do it?
What a spouse really wants in a present, more than the thing you are giving itself, is that it shows you care, and care is evidenced through trying to figure out what the recipient of the gift really wants. Essentially, you care enough to think about it.
I know what I like, and I might know what you have liked in the past; that’s easy, because you tell me. But figuring out what you will like — that’s the challenge! There is only one way to know that: care. The more you care, the more you will understand what your spouse likes and thinks. The more you do that, the closer you become.
We can’t become close to someone we don’t understand.
We can’t become close to a G-d we don’t understand. G-d likes korbanot. And if we don’t understand why, we cannot become close.
Why the Blood and Guts?
It’s two days until your birthday, and your 10-year-old son asks for $20. Why?
Because he wants to buy you a Buzz Lightyear reading lamp as a present.
Isn’t this a waste of money? No!
Is there anything your son can buy you with your own money that you really want? No!
Similarly, is there anything we can give to G-d using His world? The only thing we can possibly give G-d, or anyone, is a piece of ourselves.
It’s not the lamp you will enjoy — it’s the piece of your son in the lamp.
How do we give a piece of ourselves? Care. Caring is understanding what the other likes, loves, and needs. Understanding means you get it. You get why he or she likes it.
And you can’t do that without liking it, too.
Less than that and you just don’t understand. Less than that means you aren’t giving enough to care. Your spouse doesn’t need you to buy them the flowers or even the wrench set. Similarly, G-d can sacrifice His own animals. The only thing no one can have, unless I give it, is me. And that’s all I have to give.
G-d Cares About Blood and Guts?
Allow me to explain.
Take the wristwatch off your arm and unscrew the back (don’t try this at home). Now take out all the parts and lay them out on the table. Then, put them all back together again (I told you not to try this at home). Okay, now take them to a watchmaker and have him put it all back together again.
Now, take a cow and take it apart (really don’t try this at home). Now try to find someone to put it all back together again just like the watch.
How do all the parts of a cow, sheep, goat, even us, all work when it’s impossible for them to work once we take them apart? That is what you see in a korban. When you see that, you realize what a gift of life we have. No engineer can put all the parts together to make what was once standing and breathing a few minutes ago.
Life is an amazing gift of such magnitude, words do not exist to explain its true meaning. When you realize how amazing life is, you realize what a gift it is. The most precious gift. And that is what G-d loves. Life. The more you appreciate life, the more you understand G-d. It is a wonderful cycle of gratitude, giving, and closeness.
And it is the perfect antidote to the petty selfishness that we often fall victim to.
When you see how amazing life is, that all our parts function and work in a way that makes human understanding sound like an oxymoron, you realize how much G-d has given you. And you understand G-d (to the degree possible). And when you understand G-d, you feel closer to Him. Why? Because you care about what He cares about.
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland and serves as Executive Director of Aish Seminars. He did nine years of post-graduate studies at the Aish HaTorah Rabbinical College in Jerusalem, and has been an educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years. He is the creator of the BLISS seminar, which was awarded a federal grant to help reduce the divorce rate in Washington, D.C. He studied and performed comedy in Los Angeles, and is known for imparting important ideas with creativity and humor. Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.