If you're coming to Bnai Or this morning to daven, you might want to skip this post; this is the d'var Torah I'm going to offer there! But if you're only coming for the Lunch-and-Learn afterwards, or if you're not able to make it to Boston's Jewish Renewal congregation this Shabbat at all, read on. When I wrote this, I wasn't thinking about the fact that Lent was about to begin on the Christian calendar; I'd love to know how/whether any of this resonates for those of you who are giving things up for Lent...
What do we think of when we think about sacrifice?
Maybe we think of giving something up. "Everyone must make sacrifices in time of war." If I give up something I want, then I'm proving my virtue. "God, I love you so much I'll give up chocolate."
Or maybe it's that old idea of the bargain: "God, if You'll just get me that promotion—make her love me—make him well again—I'll give up television for six weeks. Or I'll give up wrongful speech and gossip. I'll give You anything if You just..."
But that's not what the Hebrew word קרבן connotes.
In Hebrew, those three letters are a root which means to draw near. (In Arabic, the same is true.) The adjective karov means "near." The noun kiruv means a form of outreach (usually made by religious Jews to those they perceive to be nonreligious) aimed at enabling someone to draw closer to God.
That's what a korban was: a way of drawing closer. Our ancestors took it as a given that everything in creation belongs to God. Given that everything we own and everything we don't own already belongs to the Holy Blessed One, what can we offer to God such that the act of offering it will draw us closer together?