As we opened up the book of Leviticus this week, I let out a long sigh. Thank God Judaism has long abandoned the practice of offering sacrifices. I often struggle to make meaning of our the words of Leviticus, which might best be described as a priestly guide for ritual animal sacrifice. It’s not just because the material is obsolete in the wake of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, but also because the idea of butchering animals, and throwing them onto a giant barbecue seems less than appealing to me. I am grateful that we are through with blood drenched altars and blood spattering in our holy spaces. I throw my hands into the air and exclaim: "No more sacrifices!"
I cringe at the thought of ever resurrecting this ghastly ritual. If you were to try to bring back animal sacrifice, you wouldn’t even need PETA or the ASPCA to throw a protest. The level of outrage would sweep our country at lightning speed. Why then, I ask, can we be so outraged by animal sacrifice to God, and NOT outraged by the sacrifices of our children for the sake of our gun culture? If you ask me, I’m just as sickened by animal sacrifices as I am by our needless sacrifices of American lives!
This past Wednesday I drove to East Hampton High School and stood at 10AM outside with a group of parents to support the hundreds of students who walked out of their school. They did so in solidarity with the victims of the mass shooting in Parkland, FL. Along with students nationwide, these teens were terrified, angry, outraged, and at the same time motivated. I was moved by their outpouring of emotion, by their courage, and by their conviction. They know that their lives are at risk of being sacrificed, because far too often, our schools are the altar upon which we sacrifice our children.
We sacrifice our children so that every American has the right to buy an assault rifle with a high capacity magazine and a bump stock. We sacrifice American lives for a laissez faire process of buying a gun. We sacrifice children for a right to bear arms. I’m done with sacrifices. No more sacrifices!
There is one sacrifice that is absolutely prohibited, even in the period of when animal sacrifices were the norm. The sacrifice of children was, and always has been an abomination! “וּמִֽזַּרְעֲךָ֥ לֹא־תִתֵּ֖ן לְהַעֲבִ֣יר … וְלֹ֧א תְחַלֵּ֛ל אֶת־שֵׁ֥ם אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ׃, Never offer up your children as a sacrifice” declares God, “because doing so profanes the name of God (Leviticus 18:21).” The prophet Jeremiah says it clearly as well, “you are sacrificing your children, burning them, and this is a sacrifice that “לֹ֣א צִוִּ֔יתִי וְלֹ֥א עָלְתָ֖ה עַל־לִבִּֽי which I never commanded, and would never even cross my mind (Jeremiah 19:5). It was an abhorrence when the Israelites witnessed their own people sacrificing children in the valley of Hinom outside Jerusalem, and it’s just as horrendous today in the halls and classrooms of our schools. No more sacrifices!
I’m reminded of the Jewish mandate called pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save a human life. This mandate overrides many of the most sacrosanct mitzvot in the Torah. You can violate Shabbat to save another human life, you can lie in order to save another human life, and you can break your fast on Yom Kippur, all in order to save another life. We place tremendous value on every human being, because Jewish tradition sees each life as a potential world in and of itself (Sanhedrin 4:5). If we’re required to preserve human life even at the cost of violating some of the most sacred Jewish traditions, why on earth wouldn’t we value our childrens' lives over lax gun legislation? No more sacrifices!