Sermon: Vayikra – The sacrifices that bring us closer together

Written by Rabbi Hannah Kingston — 30 March 2020

On Thursday night thousands of people all over the UK took part in the ‘clap for carers’ a tribute to our heroes in the NHS. Although it was only a small token of appreciation for the people who are putting their lives in danger on the frontline of this pandemic, NHS workers and carers took to social media platforms to write about how uplifting it was to be literally cheered on in their work.  Ambulance drivers who were out in the midst of it took to twitter to speak about how it felt to hear the noise in between their sirens and to see the lights of the city cast blue in their honour.

For many this was their first venture outdoors since Monday when our lives were put on lockdown by the government.  By giving people a common goal and allowing people to join together in solidarity with one another, our society created a fleeting moment of closeness with people whose names we may not know. Small communities of support were built, helping people to feel less cut off in their isolation.

Looking down my street and hearing the shouts and claps of my neighbours, it was hard not to feel emotional, at the realisation of how greatly the world has changed in just 10 days. Personally, I feel sadness for the interactions I have lost. I feel scared for the things we could still lose. And yet I feel hopeful that one day our lives will not return to normal, but to something changed for the better.

I can hardly believe that just two shabbatot ago, we brought in Shabbat as usual. My Fridays which have looked the same week in week out, beginning with me becoming a human climbing frame for our youngest members, and ending surrounded by a community of voices, have now become something totally different. As for so many of us, the day is now me and a computer screen, an opportunity to catch a glimpse into the homes of the people on the other side.

For each of these things I feel a loss, a loss of the closeness we used to have. I feel a loss of the cuddles from babies, of the kisses on cheeks, of the pushing on the tallit of my colleague, lifting it up on his shoulder as it falls off.

But within this loss, there has also been a gain. When 62 families joined our baby den yesterday morning, I realised we are not losing the closeness that we felt. It is just shifting. Now the connection is different, it is in your homes, a piece of Alyth leaving our sanctuary walls and coming with you into your own spaces.

This week it feels especially pertinent to read in Torah about sacrifices. Today the word ‘sacrifice’ means an act of self-deprivation, giving something up in order to gain something else. In the case of coronavirus, we are giving up physically going into the spaces we wish to be in or seeing the people we love in order to flatten the curve and maintain our health and that of the people around us.

For the Ancient Israelites sacrifice was not this. Sacrifice was a joyous religious rite, a way of showing thanks in often the most grand of gestures. The Hebrew word for sacrifice, Korban, means something brought near and for the Israelites an act of sacrifice was just this, an act that was meant to bring the people closer to God.

Today, when we have been physically torn apart we need to find new ways to draw closer. In our new reality, we find ourselves constantly making sacrifices. We are no longer able to go out to socialise with our friends, to pop into our colleagues offices when we have a question, to visit an elderly relative, to pick up food in a shop.

But perhaps these sacrifices that we are making every day should not be viewed with negative connotations as acts of self-deprivation, but instead as an act of korban, something that will bring us closer together in the end.

For with every sacrifice we make, every space we do not enter, we are given an opportunity to find a different way to get close to each other. For many of us this has meant putting in new and extraordinary efforts, trying out new things, entering virtual spaces we would never designate the time or energy to enter in our normal lives.

How many of us can say that this week was the first time we tried a new study session, or music class, classical concert, or different style of service because we had the time and more importantly the need for connection with others.

We are still part of that ever-evolving concept of sacrifice, finding now how our sacrifices truly will bring us closer to our community. Every moment we spend in isolation unable to socialise with others, will help us to appreciate the people we do have and the time we can spend together. Every time we miss a loved one, will be a phone call and meaningful conversation we take the time to have. Every day we crave the outside world, will be a walk we are so grateful for when we are allowed out.

May the losses we feel at the moment, make us more grateful for the hakhnasat hatov, the small things in life we so often take for granted, as spoken about by Rabbi Josh last night.  May each day that we are forced to stay home, help make us better people, well rounded, less consumed by our work and more able to make time for the people that we love. And ultimately, may the sacrifice of staying at home be the thing that brings us closer to one another in the end.