Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
This week we begin reading the third book of the Torah, Vayikra/Leviticus. The parashah is also called Vayikra, as the first parashah of each of the five books of the Torah takes the name of the book itself. There is a long-standing tradition within Judaism that when young children begin to study Torah they begin with Vayikra. Now if I were to choose a place to start I might choose the intricate family dynamics of Bereshit or the drama of slavery and redemption found in Shemot. I certainly would not choose the book of Vayikra with its detailed descriptions of animal sacrifices and intricate laws and regulations. And yet there is great wisdom to our Sages' decision to begin Torah study with Vayikra. For in many ways the central (third) book of the five books of the Torah is the centerpiece of what it means to be a Jew, if not a human being. No, we do not sacrifice animals. No we do not observe all of the laws and regulations of Vayikra. But we do need structure. We do need teachings to follow. And that is what Vayikra is about.
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