Burning Man
Vayikra 2012/5722

There is a pilgrimage that takes place every summer in the Nevada Desert. 50,000 people head to the sandy wasteland and participate in a week-long festival which culminates with the night time burning of a massive effigy of a human being. Burning Man is a phenomenon that eerily connects modern living with the ancient phenomenon of sacrifice.

Our Kosher Sutra is stark: “When you bring an offering to God, you shall bring an offering of cattle, or even of herd or of flock. If the offering is a burnt-offering of the herd, it shall be a male without blemish…” (Lev 1:3-4). The Hebrew word for offering or sacrifice is Korban and the root of the word, karev, literally means ‘draw close’. Through the process of sacrifice, humans come closer to God and closer to one another.

Sacrifice is a painful business. It hurts. It smells. It is visceral. When we talk about ‘making sacrifices’ in our life, we usually refer to giving something up in order to transform something else. We might sacrifice the last drink of the evening in order to get to sleep so that we can rise early to exercise, or we might sacrifice some pride if we are to create a lasting sense of peace within the home.

The teachings of yoga refer to an idea of inner sacrifice and it has been taught that ‘the sense organs, the tongue, etc., are the sacrificial vessels, the objects of the senses, taste, etc., are the sacrificial substances’ (Merce Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, p111 fn.50). The fire or ‘tapas’ of a yoga practice heats us up and burns away our ego, wiping away the sacrificing the thoughts and behaviours that hold us back.

If we practice with commitment, we can end up with a purer heart, a clearer mind and spiritual clarity. It just might burn a little.