In late 1964, after five years of construction, the Verrazano Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island opened to traffic. It was made of steel and was then the longest suspension bridge in the world. In order to prevent corrosion from the sea air, it is painted, using about 12,000 gallons of paint. Since rust would quickly weaken and destroy the bridge, the paint is kept in good shape.
The default condition for iron and even steel is to rust and deteriorate unless steps are taken to inhibit the oxidation process. The default condition for many foods such as meat is to deteriorate and go bad unless the process is inhibited by refrigeration. The default condition for most animals is to flee humans unless cornered.
Humans have several troublesome defaults.
Most of us have the default condition of laziness. We struggle through life trying to develop self-discipline to conquer laziness. Another default condition is ingratitude. Most of us, tend towards a slight resentment of those who have benefited us. Instead of feeling a natural and warm appreciation, we find fault in them.
Perhaps the most surprising human default is our urge toward sacrifice. We tend to seek areas in which we can diminish ourselves in some way. For instance, we have children. We have a deep-seated subconscious awareness that children transform us into givers and in so doing, they summon up from the best of our need to sacrifice. Charity is another way we satisfy our need to diminish of ourselves.
For some, the need to sacrifice is fulfilled by an almost religious zeal for environmentalism. Using less fuel, space, water or anything else that primitive civilizations spend centuries struggling to attain fills a powerful need to feel virtue by showing we do not care for the physical above all else.
Some drive tiny electric cars with worryingly low range because they allow their owners to sacrifice their comfort for some higher purpose, as they see it. After all, it is not as if the electric car is actually diminishing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The electricity that charges their car battery comes from burning exactly the same hydrocarbon fossil fuels that they could have put in their gas tank in the first place.
Reusing our hotel towels and eschewing the daily change of our hotel bed linens does far more for the hotel’s bottom line than it does for the ‘environment’ but friends in the hospitality industry tell me that, to their financial delight, about 30% of guests play along. Furthermore, those who make the sacrifice for the environment report greater satisfaction with their stay. Well, of course they do! They feel the virtue of sacrifice.
Sacrifice assures our spiritual selves that we do indeed care about more than our physical comfort. Yes, we all do need constant reassurance that we humans are about more than merely eating, excreting, mating, reproducing and dying. Sacrifice is the answer.
Some diet obsessively or spend inordinate amounts of time and energy on painful exercise. Have you heard of the ‘high’ that comes to those who exert themselves physically? That is precisely what I’m talking about. A deep sense of spiritual satisfaction at sacrifice in any form. Serving suffering people works too. There is a range from meaningful to frivolous sacrifice, but it all fills a need.
Much of the Book of Leviticus provides the Biblical information on the human need for sacrifice. Here is one example:
No meal offering that you sacrifice to the Lord shall be made out of any…
leavening or any honey as a fire offering to the Lord.
It is strange that these two items, regular bread and honey, are highlighted as not to be included in a sacrifice. We already know that only those things explicitly specified were allowed on the altar. Thus the Torah does not inform us that goldfish and pickles, may not be offered. So why would Leviticus exclude bread and honey?
We can hardly read of bread and honey without remembering the opposite found in a famous verse:
And on this night, they shall eat the meat [of the Passover lamb] barbecued over the fire along
with unleavened bread [matzo] and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.
For the special Passover sacrificial meal they ate unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Subsequently we are told not to include the opposite, regular bread and sweet honey in sacrifices. Hmmm…
However there is a time for offering regular bread and honey:
However, you shall bring them [leavening or honey] as a first fruit offering to the Lord…
When expressing appreciation by bringing God our first fruits, we are doing something which doesn’t come naturally to us. It is not a human default to express gratitude. That is why God asks us to bring things that taste good like good freshly baked bread and sweet honey to help to associate in our hearts that gratitude is sweet.
But bringing a sacrifice is different. Its very effectiveness is dependent upon it not being a pleasant thing to do. “I was up all night with my sick child,” moans the weary mom. Deep down she knows that this is what endows her with the title mom. “I gave up six of my bullocks and eleven of my goats to the Temple sacrifice,” an Israeli citizen might have announced two thousand years ago. He sounds just like a modern-day American who proudly announces that he exchanged his luxurious and safe seven-passenger V-8 SUV for a Chevrolet Bolt. Just as the ancient sacrificer gave up a significant portion of his flock, his modern counterpart gives up considerable load carrying capacity plus enormous vehicular weight that might translate into accident survivability. Yet he feels good.
Needless to say, I am not comparing a Godly sacrifice, whether oxen or child-raising to a contemporary sacrifice to the secular gods of environmentalism. What I am doing is showing that people have a built in need to sacrifice. Far better to fulfill that need with valuable and legitimate sacrifice than to feel good because you bought a Bolt or a Tesla with the help of a massive tax incentive coughed up by your fellow citizens.
Later this week we begin our celebration of Pesach (Passover) in which a special Passover meal called the Seder is served. In our three-part teaching, How to Lead Your Own Passover Seder, we detail the meaning behind each action of the Passover Seder, which is so much more than a festival meal. We also share how to prepare and lead your own Seder and give you all the tools needed to guide your family and guests through the wonderful Seder experience. On sale this week, we encourage you to check it out!
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3 thoughts on “Cows or Corvettes?”
Once again, you are the voice of reason, Thank you Rabbi & Susan.
Some kinds of “environmental” sacrifice directly benefit other humans, such as the landowner who restores a prairie/wetland on fifty acres of his land, instead of growing corn on those acres, in order to hold back and cleanse water that would otherwise head downstream, still polluted, to add to the pollution of the river on which downstream residents depend. Sending down polluted water instead of cleaner water adds to the expense of treating that river water so it is safe for drinking. That is a specific fact-based scenario that happens in the rural Upper Midwest where I live.
I am grateful to the landowners who do restore prairie/wetlands on parts of their land. I am also puzzled by what seems to be a certain amount of ongoing mild scorn on this website regarding the environment. Are people who care about the environment, and try to act accordingly, less deserving of respect than people who care and act regarding other causes? If someone donates money to an organization that protects wildlife habitat, is that somehow worse than donating to an organization that runs an art museum? Perhaps I have missed important information that would explain this.
It’s odd that I never felt a great need to sacrifice in such a way as described in this thought tool. I am always grateful to God, not a day passes where I might offer up a quick prayer or thanks to God. When I give I don’t consider it ‘sacrifice’ but perhaps on a more selfish level gaining some approval from my Father in heaven or because I feel the cause is just like taking care of the elderly. Those secular liberals like to ‘sacrifice’ to a false God and virtue signal unjust causes (like reducing carbon). Perhaps we do not all share the same ‘defaults’ at the start of life.
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