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When is a prayer like a sacrifice?

Posted on 04/05/2013 @ 08:11 PM

Tags: prayer

The Torah portions over the last few weeks have focused on the different sacrifices, “korban or korbanot,” that God described to Moses. These sacrifices included sin offerings, peace offerings, and offerings for various holidays. They were to be performed on the altar in the Tent of Meeting and eventually at The Temple in Jerusalem. But once The Temple was destroyed, sacrifices can no longer be offered. So, how can these laws be relevant to us today?

To answer this question, let’s start with the point of the sacrifices themselves. The meaning of the root of the word Korban actually translates to “closeness.” Korbanot (plural) were given in order for the Jews to bring themselves closer to God. When the Holy Temple was destroyed, the Rabbis developed prayers to replace the act of sacrifice in the temple and bring people closer to God. Prayer services follow the same repetition patterns (three times daily with an extra on Shabbat) and share many of the same focus points as sacrifices did. Prayers - and then communal prayer services - become the way in which Jews could acknowledge a higher power, give thanks, atone for sins, and bring themselves closer to God.

For some, prayer is an effective way to achieve “closeness” to God, to Judaism, and to spirituality.  Reciting traditional prayers can bring someone not only closer to the divine, but also to the generations of Jewish people who recited the very same words.  Prayer services can help build kehillah (community), console an individual in distress, or help an individual deepen their own Jewish identity.

In January, ONR BBYO was honored to be given our very own Torah by a very dedicated donor. Right before Pesach at our Regional Convention, I had the honor of working with a teen to plan and lead a Shabbat morning service and Torah reading for his very first time. He later expressed that this experience was one he will never forget and helped him feel much closer to his Judaism.

For many of us, however, traditional prayer may not always be a comfortable or familiar route to achieve “closeness.”  This Shabbat, I challenge you to pick a circumstance in your life that you are thankful for, wish to atone for, or seek help for, and think about expressing that wish through a prayer. It doesn’t have to be a traditional prayer – you can even write your own. Even though we no longer make sacrifices on the altar in the temple, and even for those of us who don’t regularly attend services at a synagogue, prayer can still be a powerful vehicle to bring us closer to our religion, spiritually, and the sometimes seemingly outdated laws of our Torah.

This Shabbat Message is offered by Leora Hoenig, Program Associate, Ohio Northern Region


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