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yesh omrim

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The sacrifices of the sick

17 August 2004

(Sorry for falling so far behind in the weekly-drash department…things have been busy.)

The first chapter of Isaiah (the haftorah for Parshat Devarim) is famous for a passage where God seems to be dismimssing the sacrificial service that He instituted:

What are your many sacrifices to Me? says God. I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts. I do not delight in the blood of bullocks, lambs, or he goats…. Stop bringing meaningless offerings; they are offerings of abomination to Me. New Moon, Sabbath, and the Festivals—I cannot bear iniquity along with solemn assembly. My soul hates your New Moons and your appointed feasts. They are a burden to me; I am weary of hearing them. (Isaiah 1:11–14, Kaplan translation)

How should we understand this paragraph? Place it in the context of an earlier remark:

…The entire head is sick, and the entire heart faint. From head to foot there is nothing sound in it, only wounds, bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been pressed out, or bound up, or softened with oil. (ibid. 5–6)

To what can this be compared? Imagine a doctor recommending a certain course of vitamins to a young man, saying, “Take these every day to improve your health.” The man takes the vitamins faithfully, but as he grows older, he starts smoking heavily, his diet goes to hell, he sits around reading blogs when he should be exercising, etc., etc. As the man’s health deteriorates, the doctor explains that all this bad behavior has consequences, but the patient keeps saying, “I’m taking my vitamins!” and ignores every other piece of advice the doctor ever gave him. After years and years of such fruitless conversations, the doctor rues the day he ever told the patient about those vitamins.