In Vayikra, we leave the narrative stories of B’raysheet and Shemot and now enter the third of our Chamisha Chumshei Torah for a detailed recitation of the rituals of the sacrifices and the laws of the priestly class—thus the name of this book is Leviticus—having to do with the Levites. How can we understand the meaning and worth of animal sacrifices to our ancestors in ancient times? Without a Holy Temple how can we understand its relevance to us today? Of course, there are those who believe that when the Moshiach comes, a Third Holy Temple will be built and animal sacrifices will be reinstituted.
You will be happy to know that most of our revered sages did not believe that God even wanted animal sacrifice, but knew that humans (at least the ancients) had a need for a physicality for their worship in somehow exciting all of their senses in worship. The sacrifice did all of those things with sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. After all, the Temple sacrifices were great big barbecues. Remember that our “modern” prayer services were developed in response to there being no Temple and no sacrifices. It was the wisdom of our Rabbis to have taught that it was acts of loving kindness, tzedakah and devotion to our principles of faith that God wanted, not animal sacrifice. Otherwise, Judaism would not have survived the destruction of the Temple. The laws of the korbanot–sacrifices do, however, remain extremely interesting and relevant because of their awesome symbolism.
The word Korban is translated as sacrifice, but it literally means “closeness,” as the way our ancestors were able to become close with God. In modern times, we use the expression to “connect.” What mechanism do you use to connect with the divine? In less than two weeks, we will actually all participate in the greatest sacrifice ritual we have—the Passover Seder. Will we actually slaughter the lambs? Probably not. But that is what the Seder ritual is—partaking of the Korban Pesach, just as our ancestors did. May each of your Seders serve to help you and your family feel closer to God, our People and our traditions.
This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Rachel Shere. While she will touch on the Parasha, the main focus will be themes of the upcoming holiday of Pesach and the strange “telling” of the story in the Haggadah. Join us at 10:00 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like. It may even be a nice preparation for your upcoming Seder experiences.