Making Sacrifices for Better Health

Chumash printed and commented by S.L. Gordon

This week in the Jewish lectionary cycle, synagogues around the world begin reading the Book of Leviticus. The very first Torah portion is called Vayikra after the first word in the first verse in Hebrew; the reading describes five of the sacrifices/offerings that Israelites were to make in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple) on various occasions.

The Jewish view of sacrifices is different than what we often think about. In modern parlance, sacrifice is thought of as giving up something. Usually the sacrifice is made in order to accomplish something else–to appease a god, to give thanks, to request something from a god. The ultimate goal is to engage in the creation of holiness; this comes from the Latin root of the word sacrifice. In Judaism, the word used is Korban and, linguistically, it has nothing to do with holiness; rather it means to approach or come close. The goal of a sacrifice then is to come closer to God; this may better explain why Abraham was willing to offer up his son. The aim of a sacrifice is not transactional but rather to simply be in relationship with God.

In the world of fitness and health, we also talk about making sacrifices, but in a different way. Those who have ever tried to lose weight know that we have to “sacrifice” eating some of the foods we might like, or at least eat them in different quantities. Working out also requires setting aside time that might be spent watching TV, shopping, or doing other activities; belonging to a gym or hiring a personal trainer involves a financial commitment that may necessitate cutting something else out of the budget. There is only so much time in the day and only so many resources, and we have to make choices…or sacrifices.

A more positive way to look at these sacrifices is not as having to “give something up.” Rather, the Jewish view of sacrifice asks us to think about what our choices can do in order to “bring us closer.” Closer to what? Closer to our health and fitness goals. Closer to living the kind of life that we want. Closer to actions that reflect our values.

Over the last 6 weeks on my weight loss journey I have had to sacrifice a lot–mostly my beloved pastry! In the process, however, I have found that I am closer to who I want to be. I feel the way I want to feel. I look more like how I want to look. I find I have more energy and stamina. I am indeed “closer” to where I want to be…and I did it by making “sacrifices.”

As we reflect on the beginning of the Book of Leviticus, let us consider the sacrifices we are willing to make (and are not willing to make) in order to bring us closer to who we really should be.

Wishing all a great weekend and Shabbat Shalom!

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