“But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.”—Leviticus 12:8
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Tazria-Metzora, from Leviticus 12:1—15:33. Tazria means “conceived,” and Metzora means “diseased.” The Haftorah is from 2 Kings 7:3–20.
“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry is a well-known story about a young couple without any money who desperately want to give Christmas gifts to one another. The wife decided to sell her most precious possession – her beautiful hair – and with the money she bought her husband a chain for his most prized possession – his gold watch. At the same time, the husband sold his valuable watch in order to buy combs for his wife’s cherished hair.
When the couple exchanged gifts, they realized that each gift was now worthless, yet they were not left empty-handed. In fact, they received – and gave -- the greatest gift of all: Love. The author concluded, “of all who give gifts these two were the wisest” because the best gifts are not physical. The best gifts come from the heart.
In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion we read about the laws regarding a woman who has given birth. She must bring two sacrifices to God – one lamb and one pigeon or dove. However, the Scripture continues, if the woman cannot afford to bring a lamb to God, she can bring two birds instead. “In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean” (Leviticus 12:8).
The Jewish sages point out that it’s important to notice the prescription given here. Two different physical gifts provide the same spiritual outcome. This equation, they explain, is not just relevant to women who had given birth in biblical times; it is a spiritual equation that remains true today. When we give to God, it is never about what we give; it’s about how we give. Spiritual outcomes are determined by spiritual input, not physical items.
Often when we want to make a gift to God’s purposes we hold back because what we have to offer isn’t “enough.” So instead of giving what we feel is inadequate, we give nothing at all. But God wants us to know that the amount we give is not important. God values gifts from the heart, and as long as someone gives to the best of his or her ability, that gift – no matter what amount – is cherished by God.
In O. Henry’s story, it’s not hard to imagine the love that the husband and wife felt for each other. That’s the kind of love that God feels for us when we give from what we have, no matter how small or how big. So next time you make a gift for God’s purposes, go ahead and dig into your wallet, but more importantly, dig deep into your heart as well.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President