Vayikra (And He –God- Called)

Leviticus 1:1 to 5:26Vayikra

The text discusses animal sacrifices made in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple. When the Temple was destroyed, sacrifices were replaced with prayer. Is prayer as effective?

Last week we finished Exodus and read about the building of the Tabernacle – A home for God in the Israelite community. This week we begin a new book of Torah Vayikra/Leviticus.

In many ways Leviticus is a handbook for the priests. But then, because the Israelite community is often referred to as a nation of priests, it makes sense that this handbook is available to all.

But, if it’s a handbook for us… it gets off to a bad start with two parshot dealing with the archaic ritual of animal sacrifices. Because they could only be completed in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple which was destroyed two thousand years ago, this information doesn’t seem very relevant today.

So, should I just skip this discussion of animal sacrifice?

When I read this week’s text, I didn’t read it for the instructions on how to sacrifice animals…. I read it with the realization that prayer replaced these ritual sacrifices after the Temple was destroyed.

Why Prayer? It doesn’t seem to have anything in common with animal sacrifice.

First, we must understand that the English word “sacrifice” has a different meaning than the Biblical word karbon, which is translated to “sacrifice.” The common English definition for “sacrifice” is “giving up of some cherished or desired object, person, or idea … usually for the sake of something else.”

The Biblical word karbon (translated to “sacrifice”) actually means “coming close” or “drawing near” … in this case, attempting to draw nearer to God. So the act of making a sacrifice was an attempt to come closer to God.

By reading the text this week we discover that sacrificial offerings are made when a person wants God’s recognition. I assume that the Israelites realized that the Eternal doesn’t consume the sacrifice. But, the pleasing odor of the sacrifice did rise to heaven.

The descriptions of the different offerings presented give us reasons why a person would make the sacrifice…. An effort to show that favorable contact with God was desired…. A celebration of thanksgiving or festivals … A request for forgiveness of a sin that was committed either by accident or because of a lack of knowledge regarding the specific infraction. This request can be made by an individual, the priest on behalf of the Temple, or by the community as a whole…. And lastly, forgiveness of a sin committed against another person. In this case, the person making the sacrifice must first recognize that the wrong was committed; then, offer reparations to the injured party; and lastly, offer the sacrifice.

Like the process of animal sacrifices, the goal of prayer is also to come closer to God.
In some cases, a person may wish to deliver a specific message to God. Prayer, like animal sacrifices, seems to have the same goals. Does a person just what to come closer to God … Offer thanksgiving? … Repent for a wrong that was committed by accident or intentionally?… Or does a person want to petition God?

At first thought, prayer seems a lot easier than completing the process of animal sacrifice.
But, in order to be effective, prayer does require some work….. There must be intent…. Without intention, prayer becomes empty words.

Then, there is a question of understanding what is being said. Congregational prayer is said in Hebrew. Most of the congregation does not know the meaning of the prayers. Is it enough to have intent without understanding the words? Maybe the effort makes this prayer meaningful.

Much of the text deals with offerings designed to provide forgiveness for wrongful acts.
Here, one must know what is wrongful… not a “this is how I feel today” attitude This requires some effort through study. Most of the Book of Leviticus deals with what is right and what is wrong …what is holy, and what is not holy. Before we ask forgiveness, we should know what is expected. And as I said, this requires study.

Also, in order for a sin against others to be forgiven… A realization that a sin has been committed must be made. Next, a voluntary effort must be made to compensate the injured party. Only then, can forgiveness by God be requested. Again, the Torah lists many commandments, ordinances, and rules that should be maintained. To fully comply, one must have read Torah, understand what is expected, and take action to implement what Torah teaches. The Reform Movement indicates that one doesn’t have to follow all the commandments, ordinances, and rules. But, one should study them; and, after personal thought, decide which should be observed….. It is not enough just to say…. “I will do good.”

Yes, after reading the parsha for this week, I can see that prayer can replace animal sacrifice. Prayer can bring a worshiper closer to God. But, to be most effective, the prayer must be done with intent and be accompanied by careful study of what is demanded by our traditions.

Earl Sabes

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