Vayikra -Leviticus 1:1 to 5:26
In Vayikra we are given instructions about the types of animal sacrifices that should be made to the Tabernacle. Through this act of sacrifice the Israelites were brought closer to God. Today, even though we don’t sacrifice animals, we still seek a closeness to God through attendance at worship services, study, and through thinking about and actually practicing the laws and commandments of Torah.
Last week’s reading was about the completion of the Tabernacle – a home for the Eternal within the Israelite community. This week we begin the book of Leviticus in which we learn how the Israelites were to interact with the God that was present among them.
The book of Leviticus begins: “The Eternal One called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying: ‘Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Eternal; You shall choose your offering from the herd or from the flock.’” (Lev. 1:1-2) The rest of the parsha describes the types of offerings of sacrifices that can and should be presented to God.
The title, Leviticus, comes from the Greek implying that it contains materials relating to the Levites, or priestly class. Basically, it is an instruction book for the Levites detailing the laws that deal with ritual matters between the Israelites and God. Plaut in The Torah, A Modern Commentary, (p. 644-5) divides the book into sections –
- Laws of sacrifice (Chapters 1-7)
- Laws dealing with the priests and Tabernacle (Chapters 8-10)
- Dietary Laws (Chapter 11 verses 1-23)
- Defilement and purification Chapter 11 verses 24 to Chapter 15)
- Yom Kippur (Chapter 16)
- Laws of Holiness (Chapter 17 -26)
- Extra laws (Chapter 27)
In the days of the Second Temple, maybe earlier, this material was call Torat Kohanim – The Priestly Torah. In many ways, this material is the heart of Torah. It details how the Israelites can build a relationship with the Eternal…. What God expects from the Israelites…. And, what actions are needed to work in partnership with God to create a better world on earth.
The first two parshot cover the subject of sacrifices and offerings made to God at the Tabernacle. Even though the sacrifices, as described, are totally remote from our practice today, there is much we can learn…. First, the word “sacrifice” is translated from the Hebrew word korban. This word literally means “something brought near.” What was brought near? …. The animal being sacrificed was brought near. Also, through the sacrificial offering to God, the person bringing the offering was also “brought nearer” to God. So these instructions provide the Israelites a way to come closer to the Eternal. And, if these offerings are made on a regular basis, this closeness to God becomes a part of their lives.
Later in Leviticus, the laws and commandments of God are presented. By following these laws, the Israelites (1) come closer to God because, as they obey these laws, they are consciously thinking about God as they go through their daily lives. And (2) they are working in partnership to create the better world as envisioned in the Torah.
So, after reading this week’s parsha, it’s easy to think … All this sacrifice …. Burnt offerings …. Bulls and turtledoves …. What has this go to do with me?…. On the surface, not much! ….. But, if you realize that this sacrificial system lasted about a thousand years – ending about the time of the beginning of the common era – it was important for a very long time…. Also, during this period, the ritual part of the faith consisted of bringing an offering to the Tabernacle or Temple and the priest conducted the actual rituals between mankind and God. The priest explained the laws to the people. The priest was a conduit between the people and God….. Today, the function of the priest no longer exists. The people speak – or pray – directly to God. The leader or rabbi serves more as a teacher or facilitator.
So without the sacrificial offerings, how can we “come closer” to God.? We can do this in many ways….. By entering the Temple or Synagogue, we experience closeness to the ways of God….. We can also achieve this closeness through study. However, this usually doesn’t happen unless it is the result of Temple or Synagogue visits.
Another way to achieve the “closeness” to God is mentioned by many of our sages – through “acts of kindness” …. or by following the laws as stated in Torah. Just by thinking of the laws and making them part of our lives, we bring God into our everyday lives.
So, even though we don’t sacrifice animals today, our actions of going to worship services, studying Torah, and following the laws of Torah…. We are trying to achieve the same objectives of the Israelites who brought offerings to the Temple …. We are attempting to “come closer to God … and the ways of God.”