The blood of faith

Why must sacrifice be necessary for redemption?

Pigs and bird 520 (photo credit: Israel Weiss)
Pigs and bird 520
(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
‘And Aaron was silent’ (Leviticus 10:3)
I am writing at the time of the funeral of the family from Itamar, where two-legged beasts took the lives of a couple and their three young children on Shabbat.
May the Almighty avenge the innocent blood of Udi, Ruti, Yoav, Elad and Hadas Fogel.
It was in the midst of the joyous celebration dedicating the desert Sanctuary that “fire came out from before the Lord and devoured” Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, the High Priest. “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘that is what the Lord has said, saying that through those closest to Me shall I be sanctified…’” (Lev.10:3).
Rashi brings the following additional words: “Moses said to Aaron, ‘Aaron my brother, I know that this Temple Sanctuary will have to be sanctified by beloved friends of the divine, and I thought it would be either through you or through me. Now I see that they [Nadab and Abihu] were greater than me and than you….’” According to this view, Nadab and Abihu were saintly individuals, worthy of being sacrificed on the altar of the desert Sanctuary, “Vayidom Aaron,” and Aaron silently acquiesced to God’s will.
But why did the desert Sanctuary, and by extension any great advance of the Jewish nation, have to be marked by the deaths of great Jews? Why must the pages of our history be drenched in the blood of holy martyrs and soaked by the tears of mourners? The only answer I can give is the one-word answer that our Sabra children like to give when we ask “why...?’ – “kacha,” that’s how it is.
Why must sacrifice be necessary for redemption? The pattern may begin to be discerned as far back as the Covenant between the Parts, in which God guarantees Abram eternal seed (Genesis 15:1-6) and the Land of Israel (15:7).
After this, a great fear descends upon Abram: His seed will be strangers in a strange land where they will be enslaved. And then they will leave, freed and enriched.
God then commands Abram to circumcise himself and his entire male household; the blood of the covenant is therefore built into the very male organ of propagation (Genesis 17); the price of nationhood is blood sacrifice and affliction.
Hence at our Pessah Seder, we retell the tale of our march from servitude to freedom in the words of the fully liberated Jew bringing his first fruits to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem: “My father, [Jacob], was almost destroyed by the Aramean [Laban], and he went down to Egypt, and he became there a great mighty and populous [rav] nation” (Deuteronomy 26:5).
The author of the Haggada then explicates the text with the description presented by the prophet Ezekiel (16:7): “I caused you to be populous [revava] even as the vegetation of the field, and you did increase and grow up and you came to excellent beauty. Your breasts were fashioned and your hair was grown – yet you were naked and bare.”
The Hebrews in Egypt were numerous and powerful, but without true character and courage. They had to go through the suffering of Egyptian enslavement, the sacrifice of having their male infants cast into the Nile.
They had to place their lives on the line by sacrificing the god of the Egyptians to the God of Israel, displaying the god’s blood on their doorposts. They had to undergo circumcision, demonstrating their readiness to shed blood for freedom, for their right to worship God in their own way. Hence the author of the Haggada returns to Ezekiel (16:6): “And I passed over you, and saw that you were rooted in your blood, and I say to you by that blood shall you live [the blood of circumcision].” It is your willingness to sacrifice for your ideals that makes you worthy of emulation, that made you a special and “chosen” people! And so the Haggada returns to describing Hebrew suffering in Egypt – a suffering intended to teach us to “love the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
This Shabbat, known as Parashat Para, is the Shabbat of purification for the paschal sacrifice. Rav Yisrael Prager tells how a murderous Nazi guard in the Vilna ghetto interrupted a secret, nocturnal matza baking, causing the blood of the Jewish victims to mix with the dough of the matzot. The rabbi cried out: “Behold we are prepared and ready to perform the commandment of the blood of the paschal sacrifice, the blood of the matzot which symbolizes the paschal sacrifice!” As he concluded his blessing, his blood too was mixed with the baking matzot.
Lama? Why such necessary sacrifice? Kacha, because so it is, because such is the inscrutable will of the Almighty. And “happy is the nation that can say kacha,” happy is the nation which understands that its sacrifices are for the sake of the Almighty, for the purification of their nation, for the message that freedom and the absolute value of every human being are values worth fighting for.
May it be God’s will that this be the last sacrifice for our freedom in Israel, for a world free of terrorism.
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.