by Rabbi Michael Dolgin, Senior Rabbi,
Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto
, Toronto, Canada
Looking at Parashat Vayikra, all I can think is: out of the frying pan and into the fire! The last 5 weeks of parashiyot from the book of Shmot/Exodus have been very challenging. With the exception of the story of the Golden Calf, they are entirely absorbed in the detail of the Mishkan/Tabernacle. We learn about the portable wilderness sanctuary and its servants, equipment, and uniforms in incredible detail. The rabbinic sages create a link between these passages and the detailed laws of prohibited activities on Shabbat. Is it possible that the portions which follow could be even more challenging?
Of course, we know that they can be. The portion of Vayikra and the book that bears its name begins with a thorough description of the sacrifices that were offered in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. Of the 613 traditional
, 142 of them are of a sacrificial nature. While the prayer life of rabbinic Judaism is tied to the rhythm of the ancient offerings, their details threaten to overwhelm us. As modern Jews who do not hope for a restoration of the sacrificial cult, where do we look for inspiration as we enter the gates of the book of Leviticus?
The rabbis are able to shape these rather unattractive trees into a beautiful forest. Each of the animal sacrifices includes four primary sacrificial acts: slaughter, transfer, receiving, and sprinkling. For the benefit of the vegetarians who might receive these divrei Torah, I will refrain from any further grim detail. However, even those who place the act of sacrifice (or the consuming of meat) in the past can appreciate the primary ingredient that the rabbis include in this sacred recipe. To the visceral elements that were part of the sacrificial cult, the rabbis add intention. Each of the four actions that are required in bringing a sacrifice must be carried out lishmah, with a clear and specific purpose or person in mind.
The offering of the sacrifices described in Parashat Vayikra belongs firmly in our past. The principles and conditions under which those sacrifices were brought have enduring relevance for all Jews throughout the world today. Some of the sacrifices were brought out of obligation and others by choice. Emotionally, these archetypal actions may carry a sense of praise, repentance, gratitude, generosity or celebration. The one factor that may not vary is honesty. A sacrifice cannot be offered unless we know for whom it is offered and for what personal purpose.
Today, we praise or repent or are generous without offering a sacrifice. Have we sacrificed honesty in moving away from the ancient rituals? Think of the last time that you gave (an act of)
. Were you fully honest with yourself about the purpose of the gift? Did your contribution truly represent an extension of your identity and values? We liberal Jews expect our movement to be honored and recognized and so it should be. Have we given meaningful support to our leaders and institutions world-wide?
We have many reasons to celebrate. What is at the core of our
? Are we able to combine the joy of our occasion with
simchah shel mitzvah
, the joy of fulfilling the dictates of our tradition and culture?
As we encounter the book of Vayikra, we need to meet ourselves again. As we analyze ancient rituals, we must revisit our modern intentions. May this parsha challenge us to live a conscious, intentional life in support of our values and our movement!