What is Sacrifice? – Kol Nidre

It’s been a long time since animal sacrifice was the accepted mode of worship for the Jewish people. On the other hand, a key component of the act of making a sacrifice remains the same. The synagogue is still asking for our money.

It may strike some of us, myself included, as odd and even slightly off-putting to mix asking for donations into the holiest moment of our year. Shouldn’t tonight be exclusively about spirituality and reflection? (And robust singing led by our talented cantor?)

The bank account for a biblical farmer or shepherd was their livestock. When our ancestors sacrificed a sheep, goat, or bullock to the Lord, they were donating hard-earned discretionary income to the Temple. Just as they must have given generously in anticipation of God’s kindness and grace, we make a financial pledge, in hopes of honoring a sacred obligation, and as an investment in our communities.

A feature that distinguished animal sacrifice from modern-day financial contributions is that bringing an animal to the Temple was considerably more involved than simply writing a check. The donor of the sacrifice might be engaged in the sacrificial ceremony in a number of ways. Often the donor’s hands would rest firmly upon the head of the animal prior to slaughter in an act of identification with its fate. The donor might make a confession declaring the act’s relevance to the bringer’s life. Afterward, depending upon the nature of the particular sacrifice, the donor partook of the holy meal it provided. Biblical sacrifice was not limited to donating an animal. It typically demanded the time, attention, and physical participation of the donor as well. A monetary gift is fungible. A sacrifice is inextricably bound up with the identity of the giver. In fact, we “give” money, but we “make” a sacrifice. This made the experience more than the giving of a gift. Biblical sacrifice was potentially transformative in the life of the giver.

Our modern financial system separates price from value. The Israelite farmer who, for example, brought their first fruits to the Temple, was certainly bringing a gift that would fetch a considerable price in the marketplace. But, there’s an undeniable value, to the giver at least, to those fruits having been “first fruits,” a value which market price alone cannot preserve. Volunteering and participating are ways in which we can restore the agrarian personal dimension of the experience of sacrifice that modern marketplace life has disconnected.

This year, we’re asking for something new and of priceless value. In addition to our annual High Holiday Fund Pledge drive, we are launching our first Participation Pledge drive. The pledge cards on the reverse side list opportunities to worshippers to extend their participation beyond attendance during the High Holiday season.

A traditional pledge drive implies that a synagogue values your financial contributions. A Participation Pledge drive demonstrates we value you. It expands and highlights the participatory synagogue culture which distinguishes us as a congregation. Participatory is the kind of synagogue we are and aspire to be. And by the way, yes, we still also need that check!

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