Yesterday, we noted the Torah’s command in Parashat Re’ei (12:13), “Be careful, lest you bring your burnt-offerings anywhere that you see.” Once the Beit Ha-mikdash was built, it became forbidden to offer sacrifices in any other location.
Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izhbitz, in Mei Ha-shiloach, finds it significant that the Torah here mentions specifically “olotekha” – “your burnt-offerings,” referring to the ola sacrifice. This sacrifice is unique in that no portions of the animal are eaten. When other sacrifices are offered, some portions are burned on the altar, while others are eaten by the kohanim ministering in the Beit Ha-mikdash. In fact, when a shelamim sacrifice is offered, the one who brought the sacrifice receives most of the meat. The ola, however, is entirely burned on the altar. The Mei Ha-shiloach writes that the ola sacrifice thus represents actions which people perform without receiving any benefit from them. It symbolizes altruism, when we act selflessly, without expecting anything in return. The command, “Be careful, lest you bring your burnt-offerings anywhere that you see,” the Mei Ha-shiloach writes, teaches that our altruism must be channeled in the right direction, solely to God.
Alongside our natural selfish instinct, we also have a natural altruistic instinct. On the one hand, we are driven to care only for ourselves, but we also have an ingrained desire to find meaning and purpose by selflessly extending ourselves for something beyond ourselves. The Mei Ha-shiloach here urges us to ensure to direct this altruistic drive towards truly meaningful and proper goals. Sometimes, our desire to give or to sacrifice for a higher purpose could lead us to give to and to sacrifice for the wrong purposes. In our quest to experience the fulfillment and gratification of being altruistic, we might mistake unworthy goals for worthy ones. We might offer our “ola” sacrifices, and give of ourselves, to things which are not worth sacrificing for. Just as our innate selfish instinct must be channeled in the proper direction – to care for our general wellbeing – so must our innate altruistic instinct be channeled in the proper direction, in the genuine and authentic service of the Almighty.