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Thursday, 25 July, 2019 - 4:51 pm

It’s always special to celebrate a holiday.  Time off work and school, special food, family gatherings and community events are all wonderful.  Spiritually each holiday has special prayers and observances that uplift us, and give us the inspiration to carry the message of the holiday forward throughout the year.  Yet with all of that there is something missing. 

Last week, I wrote about the great loss of the Holy Temple that we mourn at this time of year.  This loss is especially felt on holidays. In ancient Israel, the holidays were accompanied by many special offerings in the Temple. Each holiday had its unique offerings, besides the personal offerings that each family would bring when traveling to Jerusalem three times a year.  There were also special offerings on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. These offerings are called “Musafim” – additional sacrifices, and are the subject of the latter part of this week’s Parsha, Pinchas.  

Today when we don’t have the Holy Temple and can’t offer the sacrifices, the “Mussaf” prayer has taken the place of the offerings.  

All of the above offerings were in addition to the daily communal offering of a sheep every morning and afternoon.  These sheep were offered regularly 365 days a year, on weekdays, Shabbat, and on all holidays including Yom Kippur. Today, the prayers of Shacharit (morning prayer) and Mincha (afternoon prayer) are in their place.  Ma’ariv, the evening prayer, was established in place of the burning of the sacrifices on the altar, which often happened at night. The verse says (Bamidbar 28:2-4): “Command the Jewish people …. they shall observe my offering in its time …. two sheep every day constantly …. one sheep you shall make in the morning, and a second sheep you shall make in the afternoon.“ 

There is a fascinating Midrash quoted in the great book “Ein Yaakov” which contains all the stories and Aggada of the Talmud.  The Midrash says that there was a discussion among the sages as to which verse is the most significant in the Torah.  

One sage said it is the verse that tells us that Hashem created humankind.  Another said it is: “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”  Another said is: “Hear o Israel, the L-rd your G-d, the L-rd is one.”  A fourth sage said it is the verse: “One sheep you shall make in the morning and another sheep you shall make in the afternoon.”  All the sages agreed that this is indeed the most significant verse in the Torah.  

What is the meaning of the midrash?  How can the offering of a sheep twice a day carry more significance than G-d’s creation of humankind or the great principle of loving one another or the unity of G-d?  The great sage and mystic known as the Maharal of Prague explained as follows. While the great ideas of G-d’s unity, the fact that He is the Creator of all beings and the need for human dignity and respect are all vital, what has kept Judaism alive through all the generations is the consistency of the daily offerings to Hashem.  Chassidus explains at great length that the purpose of an animal sacrifice is to connect us to Hashem, to bring us close and bond us to our Creator. (I can’t go into this concept at length here, but it is explained very well in many places.) When a holiday comes along we feel inspired. When a friend needs something we step up and help.  But the idea of bringing an offering equally every day, twice a day, no matter the day – weekday, Shabbat, holiday – and no matter the mood we may be in, it is this consistency that keeps our deep bond with Hashem.  

If a couple in a marriage goes out of their way to celebrate their anniversaries and birthdays, and to be there for each other when they need something from each other, that is nice and important.  But it is the day to day little actions that we do for each other, especially at times when we really don’t feel like it, that truly connects us and builds a deep and lasting love.

Nowadays, as I said above, we don’t have the animal sacrifices, and we try to create that bond through prayer.  Prayer is a time for us to realize that we are here because Hashem put us here with a mission, a time to focus on this mission and to reach up to Hashem and bond with Him.  When we do that a few times a year, it is a wonderful expression of our connection to our Jewish roots. When we do it daily, morning, afternoon and night, even at times when we are really not in the mood to pray and not necessarily thinking about Hashem at that moment, our bond with Hashem permeates every part our life.  This bond then translates into action, because every day we are thinking about our mission and purpose.

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