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Sacrifices in our Times

by Ariel Bar Tzadok
Copyright 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.

In ancient times a sign of total devotion, and surrender to God was expressed through the offering of an animal sacrifice. The death of the animal was meant to represent one's own death. The sacrifice became the very real replacement symbol of one's own offering of self.

The sacrifice was called the scapegoat, the chosen replacement. Often, quite literally, the scapegoat sacrifice was indeed a goat, and thus the name. In modern times, most of us do not anymore offer goats, or other animals, as literal animal sacrifices.

Today, the literal scapegoat is no more. We are, therefore, left with one of two choices. Either we stand up, and take responsibility for ourselves, taking proper and righteous actions as our new expression of personal sacrifice, or we reject responsibility, shift blame for our actions onto another, and hold them responsible for that which we ourselves have done. Essentially, we create for ourselves new scapegoats, but this time, they are not animals, this time they are usually our fellow human beings. Needless to say, this is not a good thing, and certainly not the Biblical intent.

Not having actual animal sacrifices has either been a step forward, or a step backwards, depending on the behaviors of the individual. The person of responsibility has taken a step forward by taking responsibility for his or her own actions. The person who avoids responsibility has taken the step backwards by still seeking a scapegoat. The willingness to place one's own guilt onto a fellow human being, and to blame that one, using that one as a scapegoat is truly a choice far worse then the slaughter of an innocent animal.

Sacrifice is supposed to be an offering whose loss is felt very, very, deeply. This is, after all, what we mean when we use the word sacrifice to describe those who surrender their lives for whatever cause, or those who pay a heavy price for what they believe in. No sacrifice is an actual sacrifice if it is something superficial, and only meaningful temporarily.

Religious forms of animal sacrifice were supposed to have this deep, emotionally felt, transformational effect upon the offerer. When religion ritualized animal sacrifice, it became transformed into just another meaningless ritual. Throughout the Bible, the prophets often criticized the hypocritical rituals practiced in Jerusalem's Temple. Although an animal was killed, no actual emotional, or psychological sacrifice was made by the individual. This rendered the death of the animal a worthless endeavor. Many of the Sages suggested that it was due to this hypocrisy, and loss of significance that made God decide to do without the Temple dedicated to His Name. Who needs animal sacrifice, God thought, when the human who sacrifices it, is not equally sacrificing his heart and soul.

Sacrifice still plays an important role in the life of every human being, but this sacrifice is not of an animal, and requires no blood. This sacrifice is one of the heart, and soul, and one's surrender to a higher cause. Yes, a sacrifice can still bring one closer to God, but it has to be the right type of sacrifice. Animal blood is no longer effective.

Sacrifice as an expression of human selflessness is considered one of the highest of all noble moral characteristics. One willing to give of oneself, even to the point of one's harm is expressing a devotion, and a commitment to the purpose of the sacrifice. While many might be sacrificed, not many are those who willingly sacrifice themselves. The Biblical practices of blood sacrifices were never meant to be taken as lightly as they had become. In Biblical times, an atonement offering to God had to be absolute. It was considered a sin to offer a ritual sacrifice, without the necessary internal psychological component of the one for whom the sacrifice was made. Biblical sacrifices focused on the human heart first, and the animal blood second.

For thousands of years, the secondary component of sacrifice, the animal blood, has remained completely obsolete. Even in the future days of messianic times, animal blood will remain superfluous. Therefore, those today who long for the restoration of the long lost Temple sacrifice are missing the point of it all.

The sacrifice that matters to God is a humbled and contrite human heart, one willing to surrender and submit to the will of Heaven. Yet, what is this will of Heaven, many ask. Most answers will take us into the fantasy realms of human imagination all packaged under the guise of pious religious dogmas, doctrines and theologies. Yet, these human ideas are all of the head, not of the heart. God requires of us our hearts. In other words, God demands of us human sincerity, and that we behave with the highest values of moral character.

The human mind is always all too full of many ideas, one more confusing than the other. God recognizes our limited intellectual capacity. However, our emotional capacity for love, for duty, for tolerance, and respect, these attributes that truly define for us our humanity, these are boundless, as there is no limit to the depths of the human heart. This is why God choose the heart to be the focus of sacrifice. There is no end to what are able to offer as caring, giving, compassionate human beings.

For us today, when we read about animal sacrifice in religious ritual, we should never allow ourselves to revert to the superstitious beliefs of the past. Rather, we should focus on the real, and on the here and now. The sacrifice that is real is the offerings made from a giving heart. The here and now are the circumstances that surround us daily, and need from us all necessary expressions of the best of our moral characteristics.

These are the sacrifices found acceptable before God, when we act with compassion towards our fellow human beings. God does not need anything personally. There is nothing that anyone can actually give personally to God. The giving to God, the true sacrifices we make to God, is when we are giving to one another. When we give to one another in a spirit of humility and contriteness, it is with this that God is pleased.

Giving from the heart is never easy. This is why it is called a sacrifice. Just as the ritual sacrifices in Biblical times were a duty whose observance was required, so too today, our modern forms of personal sacrifice towards one another are equally obligatory. We have a duty towards ourselves to become the best individual persons that each of us can become. We have an equal duty to behave with one another with dignity, respect, and honor. The more difficult this becomes, the greater the sacrifice on our parts. The greater the sacrifice that each of us makes, the greater the offering one makes towards others, the greater the acceptance in the Presence of God.

A priest in the ancient Temple was renown for his sense of duty and honor. Like a mighty samurai who served his master with unflinching duty, called Bushido, so too did the Biblical Kohen (priest) serve his master YHWH with unswerving devotion and loyalty. When the need for the shedding of animal blood faded into the past, the role of the priest passed on to each and every individual who seeks to serve God.

The prerequisites for this service include this sense of total duty, devotion and loyalty. And duty, devotion and loyalty to God means acting dutifully with compassion, tolerance and respect towards our fellow human beings. This is what real sacrifice is all about. This was the underlying truth in Biblical times, and now the underlying purpose has risen to the surface, and is evident for all to see.

We today can each continue the Biblical ritual of daily sacrifice, not with its unnecessary superfluous form of shedding animal blood, but rather with the necessary human forms of the shedding of our blood, sweat and tears in our service towards humanity. Let the one who prays for the restoration of the ancient Temple, first build oneself to be a modern priest, in the modern format. For only such priests will be found worthy in God's Eyes to serve as priests in the future messianic Temple.
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The Written Works of Ariel Bar Tzadok
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