by Lena K. Gardner
Korban is a Hebrew word for sacrifice or offering. This past Saturday I had the privilege of accompanying a friend to a Jewish Shabbat service celebrating the Bat Mitzvah of a young woman in their congregation at Mt. Zion Temple in St. Paul, MN. And it is here where I learned about the Hebrew word korban. The service was multi-faceted and there were many, many parts that I didn’t understand. There was a lot of getting up and sitting down. There was a lot of call and response—some I could follow and some I could not, and some singing along too. The words felt foreign to my ears and a little alien to my tongue, as did turning the pages in the Prayer Book from left to right and seeing the Hebrew alphabet. What didn’t feel so different was the sense of love in the sanctuary. What didn’t feel so different was the love for this young woman and her family from the people in the Temple and seeing her Mother’s face overflowing with pride and shining with love. The sense of community and family was warm and welcoming to me as a visitor and resonated with my own sense of family.
Part of the service that stuck to me like glue is when the Rabbi got up to give a shortened message –are they called sermons? I don’t know. But what I do know is that something ever so small shifted in my heart when her words fell on my ears. She said that most kids when they come to their bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah service talk about sacrifice in terms of all they had given up over the years to prepare for this event. They sacrificed hours of studying, working, and time and energy in order to make it happen. She said, what most don’t yet know or just haven’t realized is that in the Torah, the Hebrew word for offering or sacrifice is most often korban. This word is derived from the verb meaning “to draw close.” When we think about sacrifice we often think about it in terms of what we are giving up, but how does it change us and what we do if we think of sacrifice in terms of what we are drawing closer to? For this young lady that may be drawing closer to God, to community, to self, to knowledge—whatever it is, she did give up some things but she also drew nearer to others.
In the past few days as I have been working on various projects, obligations, and responsibilities—especially fulfilling the responsibilities I have to my Mom (who is chronically and terminally ill)—hearing this message about sacrifice, about the Hebrew word korban, changed my heart. Every day, at some point or another, I began to think about what I am sacrificing to do any certain project. Before hearing this message, I pretty much just stopped thinking there. But in these past few days, I have started thinking about the other side—What am I drawing closer to? And I feel changed just for thinking about that. The way I have approached tasks with my Mom, my homework, my own body and the physical rehabilitation I am doing with my knee and back from previous serious injuries is changing and has changed.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that I have perfected anything. But I can say that I think I have discovered a new spiritual practice that is deepening my life experience. Yesterday, I was still upset about realizing that my Mom had lost her check card and it would fall on me to fit it into my schedule today to get her a new one. I was still upset when the washing machine broke and I had two weeks worth of laundry from my Mom and myself to catch up on and had to spend unplanned time and money at the laundromat. And I was still frustrated when I spent hours cleaning the house and my room and the bathroom didn’t get touched—but the kitchen and living room did get cleaned! But I did start to think differently about each of those tasks and what I was sacrificing to do them and what I was drawing closer to in choosing to do those over other competing tasks like homework, internship work, etc.
What I can say is that hearing that message changed me, just a little. But that little change is having rippling effects in my world. I am so thankful I got to go to that service and be a part of that celebration of that young lady. Though sometimes transformations happen in big sweeping life events, I think most of the transformations, for most of us, happen in the everyday. I know my life feels different these past few days since hearing that message, and I am experiencing my own consciousness and sense of being and time itself differently—and all in good, more life affirming, ways.
Lena Gardner is a graduate student and intern with the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance. She helps take care of her very sweet and unfortunately ill Mother; she also loves a good romp at the dog park with Atty.