Leviticus 6:1 to 8:36
The system of sacrificial offerings as a way of communicating with God has been out of practice for nearly two thousand years. Is its replacement – prayer – an effective substitute?
“The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying ‘Command Aaron and his sons thus:
This is the ritual of the burnt offering… (Lev. 6:1-2)
These words begin this week’s reading… the second parsha dealing with sacrificial offerings. It provides detailed instructions on how to offerings are to be made.
But, as I stated last week, why should we care today? Sacrifices ended about two thousand years ago. They were, however, important for a very long time. Both Noah and Abraham offered sacrifices to God. According to Torah, the sacrificial system was made official with the establishment of the Tabernacle which is thought to have happened in the 13th Century B.C.E. … and then it remained in effect until the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.. Sacrifices were a very important, well-established tradition…. And they ended only because the Temple, where the offerings had to be made, was destroyed.. There may have been some sacrifices made after this date in local areas, but, in reality, the time of the sacrificial offering was finished.
With the end of sacrificial offerings came other major changes:
Sacrificial worship was lead by the priest. The economy at the time of the Temple was basically agrarian. The animals offered were closer to the people and meant more than the meat and grain we buy at our local supermarket. The offering was made from the heart. Today, it is hoped that the prayer that replaces the sacrifice also will come from the heart of each individual.
Both today and during the years of the temple the goal of both sacrifices and prayer was an attempt to communicate with the Eternal. To be successful, this offering or prayer had to have meaning – come from the heart – and be made with a real and sincere effort.
However, many feel the objectives of this communication with God has radically changed since Biblical times.
During the Temple age, the goal was to follow all the spiritual and ethical aspects of the covenant made at Sinai.
Today, the Reform Jew is not concerned with following every law and commandment. Today, the goal is to improve our imperfect world.
This writer thinks that before we can say that prayer has the same power and effect on the worshipper as the sacrificial offerings, we have to realize that prayer is only one part of present day offering to God.
The first part of this offering is prayer, the voice of the worshiper. However, action is also needed. This action must comprise two steps: first, study … specifically the study of Torah …The objective of this study is to learn the how’s and why’s of Jewish tradition and law.… Then a person can determine what laws and traditions have meaning to them. Or, what laws and traditions bring the worshipper closer to God, and/or help to create a better world. After this study the Reform Jew can make intelligent choices about what actions they can be take to help fulfill these two objectives: 1) bring them closer to God; and, 2) improve the world in which they live.
The next step in finding a replacement as effective as sacrifices is taking specific actions. The worshiper in the Temple age took the action of bringing the offering to the Temple. Today, the action is committing to… and actually practicing… the laws and commandments that were committed to during the study … study of Torah.
So, for me, as a Reform Jew the replacement for Torah’s sacrificial offering is composed of a three step process: 1) prayer (the voice to God), 2) study (guide to action), 3) acts of good will (the execution of the concepts learned in study). Through these three steps, I feel that an effective replacement for sacrifice can be found today.