Related to Holy
Sacra, Sacrificium (Latin), Sacrificus (Old French)
Offering of something (especially a life) to a deity as an act of propitiation or homage; performing priestly functions or sacrifices.
קרוב — קרבן
Near, relation by blood
The Hebrew word (korban) connects us with something else. Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 1808-1888) teaches us that these rituals acts as a vehicle bringing a person closer to God, an antidote for alienation.
I must confess that whenever we return to the chanting from Leviticus I feel very much at sea. It feels so alien. From the arcana of animal sacrifice to the quarantine that accompanied spiritual pollution to the ordeal visited upon the suspected adulteress — mysterious and inscrutable.
From Leviticus to a construction zone —
Many fellow Maconites are familiar with the Ronald Macdonald House right near the Medical Center downtown. The facility opened in the fall of 2002. They do holy work. For me, that property looks entirely different from the photograph you see. I cannot recall just how long it took for this structure to be built, but I remember the ground being graded, and I remember the excavator and the dump trucks, the hard hats, and all the different noises made by the various vehicles. I would walk over there from our old house on Park Place with Zohar. The life chapter he then inhabited included the thrilling characters of Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder. Honestly, I have no earthly idea how he can possibly be done with his second year at college: How can that be possible?!
One day Zohar and I were standing by the behind the barrier, both of us hypnotized by all the coming and going. And the man in the excavator motioned to me to bring my child over. I still can hardly believe that I handed my boy over to him and watched as Zohar settled into the man’s lap; the man guided Zohar’s little hands onto the machine’s controls and, next thing I knew, Zohar (with some help) was scooping up huge mounds of earth and dumping the dirt into an awaiting truck. What a thrill to see your kid in the driver’s seat…
I don’t know how much time elapsed; it might as well have been a dream. The man motioned for me to come back. He was ready for a cigarette break. “How old is your boy?” I told him — I just can’t be totally sure — was he 4? Anyway, I told him, and he said…
“I had a boy his age. Lost him in the swimming pool.”
Those two sentences, followed by silence. These words reframed everything for me in an instant. Because of this encounter, my personal biblical touchstone is Leviticus 10:3 וידם אהרן — Aaron was silent. In biblical context: Aaron’s older two sons perish in a fiery flash before the assembled congregation, and too many words tumble from Moses’ mouth as he tries to comfort his brother. And Aaron was silent.
Silence was my only available response to the man who borrowed my child for a moment. A humbled silence of awe. Beneath the brick edifice is the sacred ground where my son and I met the man in the excavator. Cave is the word nestled within excavate. The Latin cavus means hollow. Excavate: to make an empty space, to hollow out. To the naked eye, the machine hollowed out the earth. But now you know something deeper: the hollow, empty space was a missing son, and through a קרבן, an offering — something was restored. And Aaron was silent.