Monday, March 3, 2014


Leviticus 1:1−5:26

by Ellen Dannin for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Drawing Close to Sacrifice

When Adar comes in, our happiness is increased. But when Vayikra comes in, we feel as if the Promised Land of great stories and heroes is far, far away.

Torah scholars through the centuries have tried to give us reasons to rejoice in these endless passages on the most minute and bloody details of sacrifices, but it is hard to say they have succeeded. Some point out that we are moving from a physical to a spiritual journey. After all, the book begins with the words "And God called." Called - not just spoke.

Others point out how the details of ritual sacrifice were transformed so that Judaism and the Jewish people were able to survive thousands of years without a temple. Reconstructionist prayers have embraced this break by eliminating prayers for the restoration of the temple sacrifices.

But let me suggest a wholly different way of approaching these very difficult passages. Try embracing them. Try taking on the feeling of what it means to be living in a society in which this is the form worship takes. After all, this form of worship, using sacrifices as its center, has had a long history of success. It must offer people something for this to be the case. Use these weekly parshiot to explore what that might be.

To that end, let me offer some questions to guide you in your embrace of Vayikra. Consider that this is a very physical approach to spirituality. Those of us who practice yoga know that physical practices can lead to spiritual development. These laws of korbanot (sacrifice) are regarded as hukkim (laws that for which we have no rational understanding) as opposed to the mishpatim, which are the sorts of legislative laws we think of. So pay attention to the most minute details of the practices. Notice what is a sin (pesha) versus an error (het).

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