THE BLOG
03/24/2013 12:46 pm ET Updated May 24, 2013

On the Meaning of Sacrifice

Jews around the world have begun the cycle of Torah readings from the Book of Leviticus, which deals primarily with the ancient sacrificial system and laws of ritual purity. This book was also known in the tradition as the Torat Kohanim, the "Book of the Priests."

It is ironic that we begin the description of the sacrificial offerings made in the ancient Tabernacle precisely as we mark the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War. It is clear from even a cursory reading of the Torah that every person, every Israelite citizen, was expected to participate in the rituals related to sacrifice. Depending on means, people could offer expensive bulls, or simply handfuls of flour, but no one was exempt from the sacrifice. As Passover approaches, it is also noteworthy that every Israelite citizen was expected to share in the Paschal sacrifice.

Many years ago the great Orthodox Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik was asked by a young man who was preparing to go to Vietnam what section of the Torah he should read in preparation for war. Rabbi Soloveitchik replied, "The section dealing with sacrifice."

Jump forward 50 years and we find that the bloody and costly Iraq War demanded little sacrifice from most of us. Only 1.5 percent of the American population participated in the war. The vast majority of us not only did not participate in the war, but did not even know anyone who did. Most distressingly, the well connected few, became rich through government contracts and other forms of profiteering derived directly from the decision to go to war in Iraq. Some of those whose portfolios were fattened served in the very government that instigated the Iraq War. In the end, few Americans were touched personally by the almost unimaginable sacrifice, loss and injuries endured by the families who provided the war fighters in this conflict.

I will not debate the morality of the decision to go to war in Iraq in this space. However, the fact that the sacrifices were made by so few, and that the war was so incidental to the lives of so many others, was immoral indeed.