"Sacrifice" is not a word one hears very often these days. It seems to
pretty much have fallen out of our lexicon. It has a negative ring to it,
like giving up something precious or losing out on something big. Nobody is
getting in line to be the "sacrificial lamb." It simply has a bad vibe to the
Well, this week we begin reading and studying a book of the Torah,
Vayikra (Leviticus), which essentially is a book about sacrifices --
specifically the variety offered on the altar of G-d in the Temple in days of
old. So let's confront some of our attitudes towards the word.
For some decades now, the pursuits of "self-fulfilment" and "self-esteem"
have been taken as necessary givens in our lives. It has become self-understood
that Looking Out for Number One is the overriding priority in the business of
life. Although of late martyrdom has become popular in certain cultures,
generally Western sophisticates are not looking to be martyrs for anyone, and
sacrificial lambs are antiquated, pitiful relics of a bygone era.
Take the case of Jewish mothers. Those loving, selfless souls have long
ago been tried, found guilty and convicted of smothering their children. "She
demanded Medical School or else!" "She force-fed me chicken soup --
intravenously!" Famous Jewish novelists have made millions denouncing their
mothers to the world.
While there may be an element of truth in the notion that Jewish parents can
sometimes be overbearing or a little too pushy, I would venture to suggest that
the sacrifices our parents, and especially our mothers, have made over the
generations are worthy of our respect and eternal gratitude rather than our
laying the blame for all our neuroses at their doorstep.
I think if we are objective we would have to admire and hold up as an icon
any human being who puts the welfare and happiness of others above their own.
Why is such selflessness and sacrifice admirable in the heroes of nations and
freedom movements, but disdainful in our mothers?
Why is such selflessness and sacrifice admirable in the heroes
of nations and freedom movements but disdainful in our mothers?
Surely the successes of Jewish sons and daughters must have a lot to do with
the people who bore and raised them. It is a modern miracle that a generation of
penniless Jewish immigrants is directly responsible for their offspring's smooth
integration into the "new world" and their remarkable achievements in virtually
every sphere of contemporary life. It simply could not have happened without
major sacrifices and a total commitment by parents to their children.
But that was then. Today, we take a more enlightened approach. "I need
space." "I can't ruin my own life for my kids' sake -- I need my own
opportunities for self-expression and personal gratification." All valid needs
and worthy goals. But too often we seem to carry it a little too far. Why should
a woman who has decided that she wants to be the best mother for her children
that she possibly can be made to feel inadequate if she gives up her career or
even puts it on hold? If she derives genuine gratification from seeing her
children well nurtured, independent, moral and proudly Jewish, is that a less
worthy use of her time than serving some company's success?
Once upon a time, husbands and wives did not go out every single Saturday
night. But they stood by each other through thick and thin. Once upon a time,
what parent did in their spare time was take their kids to extra-curricular
activities. Today we have our own extra-curriculars -- gym, golf, bridge, poker,
the manicurist and, of course, the therapist.
In fact, it may be that the reason our therapists are getting so much
business is because we're so darn busy with ourselves and we simply think about
ourselves too much. "I'm overweight, I'm unfit, I'm unfulfilled, I'm
"I'm overweight, I'm unfit, I'm unfulfilled, I'm depressed...."
If we spent more time thinking about others and extending ourselves, whether
to our own families or the wider community, we might very well be a lot
Judaism teaches that sacrifice and selflessness are character traits to
respect, admire and hopefully emulate. The Yiddishe Momma of old will be an
eternal heroine to our people. Let's stop being so obsessed with ourselves and
our own satisfaction and start thinking about what we are needed for in this
world. Please G-d, we will be able to keep our social and family balances on an
May the sacrifices we make and the caring and giving we do bring us the
blessing of real nachas and ultimate personal satisfaction too.