Parashat Sav: Making Sacrifices
Parashat Sav continues the Torah’s discussion which began in the previous Parasha, Parashat Vayikra, outlining the basic laws that apply to the various types of sacrifices.
One of the voluntary sacrifices which one could choose to offer was the Minha – an offering of grain. Whereas other sacrifices were animals or birds, the Minha consisted of just some flour with oil. Our Sages explain that this offering would be brought by the poor, who could not afford an animal sacrifice.
The Hatam Sofer (Rav Moshe Sofer of Pressburg, 1762-1839) cited his teacher, the Hafla’a (Rav Pinchas Horowitz of Frankfurt, 1731-1805), as raising the question of why the Rabbis assumed that the poor would choose to offer specifically a Minha sacrifice. After all, there was another option for a sacrifice which seems to have been cheaper – a bird. A small bird, the Hafla’a said, would cost less than flour. Why, then, did the poor bring a Minha, rather than a bird offering?
The Hatam Sofer answered this question by suggesting that the Rabbis referred to somebody who was so poor that he could not afford to purchase anything. His only access to food was the collection of "Leket," "Shicheha" and "Pe’a" – the various portions of fields which landowners were required to leave for the poor. The Torah commands that those who have agricultural fields must leave a corner of the field during the harvest for the poor, and must also leave behind the stalks that fell or were forgotten during the harvest. This allowed a way for the needy, who could not even afford to buy food, to sustain themselves and their families. The Minha offering, the Hatam Sofer explained, would be brought by this kind of a pauper – somebody who did not even have enough money for food, and relied on the portions of agricultural lands left behind for the needy. The only sacrifice he could bring was from grain, because his only access to food was from the stalks left behind during the harvest.
For this reason, the Hatam Sofer adds, our Sages speak of the poor person who offers a Minha sacrifice as offering his "soul" to G-d. This person cannot even afford food for himself and his family, and yet he takes a portion of the gain he receives from charity as a gift to Hashem. This is true sacrifice.
What Hashem wants from us, primarily, is "Mesirut Nefesh" – self-sacrifice, that we sacrifice our own convenience and comfort to serve Him. This is a difficult concept for many of us in today’s day and age, when we live generally comfortable lives. We are accustomed to comfort and convenience, and are not used to making difficult sacrifices. But true devotion to G-d is expressed through sacrifice, by doing things that are difficult and foregoing on things that we like and desire.
The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) taught that towards the beginning of the Amida prayer, when one recites the words, "Lema’an Shemo Be’ahaba," one should commit himself to sacrifice for G-d. He should think at that moment that he pledges to make some sacrifice for the sake of G-d that day. The explanation is simple. In the Amida prayer, we ask G-d for many important things that we need and wish for – wisdom, health, livelihood, and so on. Etiquette dictates that if we are asking Him for many things, we should commit ourselves to do something for Him, as well. And what He wants from us, first and foremost, is "Mesirut Nefesh," that we make sacrifices for His sake.
We must not limit our religious observance to those things which are easy, that fit neatly into our schedule and our budget and do not demand all that much. The Minha offering, which our tradition views as the most precious of all sacrifices, teaches us the importance of serving Hashem even when this entails difficult sacrifices, rather than doing Misvot only when they are easy and convenient.