Good Shabbos. It is wonderful to be here once again with all of you. I am here to honor my mother Julia Jacobs on her 93rd birthday. Sometimes I am lucky enough to go along on one of her famous trips where she takes a bus load of people somewhere. It is always such a joy for me to see my mother in action! She does this to raise money for her favorite Jewish organizations and to do what she can to bring a little joy and light into other peoples lives. She is indeed a ďmitzvah lady.Ē
Our Portion for this week is Bo Chapters 10-13 from Exodus. It talks about the last three plagues that rained upon Egypt: Locusts, Darkness, the Slaying of the first born, and the first Passover, Circumcision, Sacrifice and Redemption.
Tonight I take you to the end of Chapter 13, where it talks about Sacrifice and Redemption. God says to Moses: ďconsecrate to me every first born man and beast, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites is mine.Ē Then Moses says to the people: ďEvery year when your children ask you why, you shall tell them this. ďIt was with a mighty hand that God slew every first born man and beast in the land of Egypt. Therefore I sacrifice to God every first male issue of the womb, but redeem every first born among my sons.Ē
What is Sacrifice and Redemption all about?
In ancient times, the use of sacrifice was a common practice. People practiced Idol worship, making both human and animal sacrifices. Before Bo we hear about mass human sacrifice of first born Hebrew children by a supreme ruler Pharaoh, in an attempt to maintain his power over 600,000 people. Then in Bo we have sacrifice of all first born Egyptians by a divine power in order to free these same 600,000 subjugated people.
Out of all this we have a call to practice Sacrifice and Redemption.
Why did God create a system of Sacrifice and Redemption? Was this Godís way of awakening our consciousness to all human suffering, arrogance, morality, evil? Was Sacrifice and Redemption Godís way of beginning to guide us? I believe it was used as a way to awaken human consciousness to the gifts of freedom, and of creating a system of order and reverence.
Since ancient times, there have been many attempts to find a spiritual meaning for this sacrificial system, and an understanding of redemption.
Here are some of these ideas.
Mamonides said: Sacrifice was a common practice among all peoples at the times.
Medieval thinking believed: that man is finite and stands in need of redemption. Man could attain redemption by knowing and practicing the divine commandments: All the Thou Shalts. Kabbala
h explained that: Sacrifice is an act that restores the soul of man. Buddhism defines: Sacrifice is the giving up of that which is most precious to us. It can be a thing or opinions that we cling too. In the giving up, there is a release and the heart becomes more joyful. Redemption is the release of that which we cling too.
Heschel says: Manís task is to make the world worthy of redemption by separating evil from good. Redemption is this separation.
Perhaps we can take this into our own lives by doing a little personal house cleaning! Let us take a moment to reflect: Can we remember holding on to some attitude regarding a situation or choice that did not fit with our perception of the situation? What was the outcome of this clinging? If it was between yourself and someone else, did it cause damage to the relationship? If it was regarding a health issue, did it create a problem in the long run? If it was over two opinions, did it resolve so that both parties were listened to, resulting in a mutual agreement? Is possible that there could have been another way in any of these situations?
Who are we to judge that our ideas are any more valid than anotherís ideas? Do we realize that we all think our ideas are valid? That both parties feel the same about their beliefs? Is it so impossible to trust that we could hear each otherís point of view with openness? Are we capable of remaining open to other opinions as well as our own? Can we develop more love, compassion and understanding in our hearts towards others as well as towards our own selves?
If we could begin to take baby steps in this direction I believe we would begin to experience a feeling of connectedness to something very profound. We would feel glad in our hearts as if a great light were beaming itself within.
All over the world there is separation. We have millions of different cultures with different ideas and life styles. Our response to these differences is often negative. We respond as if we were terrified. What could be so terrifying? Are we afraid to lose our own individuality, belief systems, ideals, or our control? Why has it never been possible for humanity to embrace each other? What is it in humanity that strives for power and control over, instead of unity with what is good for the whole? We grab, hoard, stuff, judge, ridicule, control, kill, whatever is in our path that we do not like. We persecute, maim, detonate what is different in color, spiritual belief, ideas that do not fit our own ideas. We are so busy at this that we have no space to stop long enough to take a look at the suffering to humanity and creation itself, that we are causing.
We are born into the belief systems of our families and communities and never question this. This often begets the continuation of bigotry and racism.
We have actually taken the idea of sacrifice and turned it inside out. We sacrifice others like Pharaoh sacrificed our children. Instead of using sacrifice to stay connected to divine essence, we destroy its principle to separate out from the whole. It is as if we have returned to slavery because of all the suffering we human beings inflict upon ourselves and upon each other. We practice some form of racism in our attitudes and behavior almost daily and do not even know it.
The root cause of this racism is that people refuse to see each other simply as people. Pharaoh refused to see the Hebrews as people just like himself. This is in all exchanges of conflict whether in our own personal lives, in the lives of Christians and Prorestants in Ireland, Palestinians and Israelis in Israel, Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, Ruwanda, Africa or any other nation over another throughout the history of humankind?
The root of conflict lies deeply embedded within our consciousness. We mostly walk through our lives, unconscious. Unconscious of the fact that each being on this earth no matter what religion, race, color habits, foods dress, beliefs: is first and foremost a human being. We do this because we are judgmental, have needs to be right, and we think small rather than big.
WE are called to actively participate in redeeming our world. We can begin by seeing the beauty in our differences. If the entire human race embraced all beings as one human race, regardless of our differences, we would then be able to see the incredible RAINBOW that we are!
Are you familiar with the recent story of a 24 year old woman named Julia Butterfly Hill who lived for two years at the top on an Ancient Redwood tree on property owned by a lumber company, refusing to come down until she had reached an agreement to secure not only that tree but the safety of all the trees in a 200 acre circumference from clear cutting? If one human being can make such a positive difference, think of the difference that could be reached if all of humanity would participate in such a conscious way.
Is this possible in this world? Well, I really do not know. What I do know is that it is a goal worth going for. What else do we have to do that is more important?
God created this system of Sacrifice and Redemption to separate the good from the evil. We can begin by taking a look at our judgments, our angers, our lack of caring, our level of kindness and compassion for all. We can make our own personal connection to what we believe is Difine. We can pray. We can passionately care for our environment. We can sacrifice our small secure habits and open our hearts more.
I am drawn deeply to this end. What I have discovered is that I must first examine my own heart, my compassion, and my love towards of myself regardless of my childhood, how anybody has ever treated me, or what they have said to me. This is an enormous task.
There have been many great beings who have passed through the human world with a similar message. Jesus preached love for all of humanity and compassion for the less fortunate. Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, non violence. Now we have the Dali Llama speaking on compassion and loving kindness. Yet here we are still in the same mess. Why? What is wrong? What is missing?
There is an element in man that can not get away from personal goal, a need for power, and a need to have ultimate control. The plagues happened because the heart of the leader of this one small bit of the world, did not have a pure heart. It was a heart of exploitation to serve his ego, his might, his control, at the expense of over many more than 600,000 human beings in the end. If we continue to act in this same way, we only destroy all that we hold dear to us: Life, the preservation of the physical world, our human dignity, human rights and the pursuit of happiness.
There is great human suffering caused by our audacious rightness. This rightness is our block to open dialogue on any subject or issue before us. It is our small mind. Isnít this the same as the situation with Pharaoh? He held to his attitude to the max. He was unable to see others as people, just like himself. People that had different needs, different belief systems. People needing to be respected and allowed the dignity to be free.
Perhaps we can open our hearts more and sacrifice our need to be right. A closed heart causes so much damage, not only to our own health but to our relationships within our families, friends, community and the world. It can spread like a plague. Worst of all it blocks the heart to that wonderful joyful feeling of just being alive, and receiving the compassion and love that we all hunger for.
It takes personal diligence to transform our thinking, our actions, our hearts. This work must be done within every human being before we can effect the whole. Without this work that is ours to do, there is no possibility of a full healing of the planet earth and its diverse societies. If we cannot get there for our own selves there is no way that we will be able to get there for another person. We must have the courage to share what all human beings have in common, our vulnerabilities and our humanity. Once we can hear each other openly without judgment, to hear with all the love and compassion that we can muster, then perhaps we can come together in mutual respect which opens the hearts to the possibilities of solutions.
When I think of my mother Julia, I see her as a great example of a person who was able to put her own needs aside inorder to help others. She too had her own share of suffering. We each have our stories. She found her peace and place in the world by reaching out and helping others. This brought a calm to her life and a sense of her own personal worth. This was her redemption.
By sacrificing what we habitually cling to , we can all redeem our freedom to be who and what each individual soul is and has to do here on his earth. Freedom to contribute to serving the whole. It is this freedom that is our redemption.
We can begin the process of redemption in these ways. Personal house cleaning, cultivating compassion and a pure loving heart, and a renewal of a deep spiritual connection to some divine source.
Were humanity ever to right this world so all would live in peace and harmony together celebrating our differences, and our uniqueness, a world wide celebration shall be observed for all time and the story of this healing passionately told to the children once a year like we retell our Passover story. Let us never forget how humanity finally recreated the Garden that we all now live in. It all begins in the heart.
Just two short weeks ago on December 31st, all over the world by satellite, we witnessed such a world wide celebration. All peoples of the world whether in major cities, remote tiny islands, even Antarctica, regardless of culture or language, celebrated together in identical human laughter and joy sharing their diverse songs, dances and rituals, IN PEACE. Iíd say that if we can do this, we are capable of sustaining it as well.
Here is My recipe for a millennium cocktail:
Take a vow to change the quality of our lives.
Sprinkle this vow with more consciousness.
Then add lots of compassion and loving kindness to this brew. Yum!
May you be peaceful, may you be happy, may you cultivate a good heart. (Written 1/2000 given in Orange county at Temple Judea on January 14 2000 in honor of my mother Julia Jacobs 93rd birthday. Miriam Ruth Jacobs)
Copyright 2000 Miriam Jacobs
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