Unconditional Sacrifice

Friday, 11 August, 2017 - 2:54 pm


This past Monday, the 15th of Av, we celebrated the most joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar. Many have not heard of this holiday and it is largely under the radar, but the Talmud states that there is no holiday as joyous as the 15th of Av. There are several reasons for this celebration and I will focus on one of them.

At the beginning of the Second Temple era, a time of communal poverty, there was a shortage of firewood to keep the fire on the Holy Altar burning. No fire means no sacrifices, which is a major crisis in a functioning Holy Temple.

Several wealthy families stepped up and donated huge supplies of firewood to keep the Temple operational. As an expression of gratitude to these generous families, the anniversary of their donation was commemorated each year by feeding the fire of the Altar with firewood donated by that family on that day. That day was a joyous occasion for that family.

The 15th of Av was also a day that a family had donated firewood, but there was a unique twist in their donation. The wood used on the Altar was top quality. It needed to be very dry, hence, the window of opportunity for chopping that wood ended at the conclusion of the summer season – the 15th of Av. Wood chopped from the forest after that date was considered of inferior quality.

Here is the catch. Whereas the families who donated earlier in the summer were able to replenish their supply with high quality firewood, the family that donated on the 15th of Av had no such recourse. The selflessness and sacrifice of their donation was greater by al means.

We celebrate the awesome capacity to give of ourselves unconditionally. To care for the needs of another, even if we may lose out in the end.

This Shabbat, the 20th of Av, is the Yartzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, the Rebbe’s father. As the chief Rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine and the sole remaining member of the Schneerson dynasty in a rabbinic position during the 1930s, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was the standard-bearer of Judaism against the enormous pressures of the evil Stalinist government.

In 1939, in response to his vigorous work on behalf of Judaism, he was arrested and exiled to a remote area of Kazakhstan. Beyond the physical torment of living in such a primitive place with limited food and medicine, the spiritual anguish of separation from his community and his library was excruciating. His courageous wife, Rebbetzin Chanah, brought him a few Torah books, and with the home-made ink she managed to produce from wild berries, he annotated the margins of those books with his innovative teachings. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok passed away in exile due to his suffering, and those marginal notes serve as his only Torah legacy for generations to come.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sacrificed everything dear to him to ensure that the Jews of the USSR continue to live connected to their heritage of Torah and Mitzvos. May we be inspired by his example to do our utmost in strengthening Judaism wherever we may be – unconditionally.

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