Shaya Cohen -


Finding Ways to Restart

Inertia is a powerful force. It is the simple, most likely explanation for why a person, or a family, or a nation walks and acts in a repetitive way, unthinkingly doing what has been done before.

We all run the risk of falling into a rut. In some ways, this can be very healthy – if what we are doing is stabilizing or generally positive. But in so many ways, especially in relationships, we tend to settle back into old patterns and behaviors, instead of finding ways to grow in productive directions. And when we stop doing anything new or creative, then our lives run the risk of becoming pointless.

My Torah partners and I think we have seen this issue within the text of theTorah, specifically when trying to understand why the Torah calls for a yearling male lamb for a range of sacrifices. The specific sacrifices that mention a yearling lamb are: the paschal lamb (offering 1 animal), every morning and evening (1 each), purifying the altar (for each tribe: 1 elevation + 5 peace), Sabbath (2), New Moon (7), Rosh Hashanah (7), and Yom Kippur (7), the festival offerings (Pesach (7), Omer for elevation (1), Shavuos (7 + 1 Omer elevation + 2 peace), and Sukkos (14)).

Why a yearling male animal? One could argue from the first mention – the Passover lamb. That is the beginning of the Exodus, the transition from a large family to the birth of a nation of families. As such, every other offering connects back to Passover, to the beginning. We could thus see offering a yearling as a way to connect to our roots, to stay grounded in the past. This matches Jewish prayer, which includes, every day, the song that Moses and the people sang after leaving Egypt. The yearling could thus be a touchpoint to our origins.

I think this is part of the answer, but it can be extended further. The words for a yearling, ben shanah are found – separated – in earlier verses in the Torah:

After the birth of Seth, Adam lived 800 years and begot sons and daughters.

So the words connect to another beginning: the first man has children.

Then we have another milestone:

[Avraham’s] son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

Circumcision, the initialization of a child into a relationship with G-d.

And then another son:

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Each of these verses has these words: ben and shanah, in them. And we see a pattern: biological growth, spiritual connection, and the future through Isaac. It is an arc leading to a connection with one’s father and with G-d.

Seen in this way, the use of a yearling in sacrifices is to understand that every moment is a potential beginning. We do not have to be in ruts: we can see opportunities by seeing ourselves as reborn every morning and evening, every Shabbos and new moon, and every festival. The festivals use 7 yearlings: the number 7, of course, connects back to creation and the 7 pairs of animals brought onto Noah’s Ark: more new beginnings. And the double portion of yearlings on the festival of Sukkos is particularly appropriate, as Sukkos is at the very end of the spiritual cycle of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time when we are closer to G-d than any other time of the year: the closer we are to G-d, the more able we are to be spiritually nimble. It is the single biggest opportunity to turn over a new leaf.

Similarly, an animal that has lived just one year has lived 365 unique days – there has been no repetition. Every day is new.

Perhaps, then, the yearling is always meant to remind us that we always have the opportunity to see things with fresh eyes, to change and to grow. We are only stuck in the past if we refuse to realize that we always have the option to begin again.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @kidcoder, @blessedblacksmith and @eliyahumasinter work]

Comments are welcome!

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