Parashat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26)

“It is a law for all time throughout the ages, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood.” (Leviticus 3:17)

Vayikra (“And he called”) is the name both of this week’s parasha (portion) and the entire third book of the Torah.  Vayikra opens with detailed instructions for offering the various types of sacrifices, which were the primary mode of worship in Biblical times.  The first sacrifice mentioned is the olah (elevation offering) and the Torah describes the entire ritual three times: once with bulls, once with sheep or goats, and once with birds.  This repetition is curious, since parsimony with words is the Torah’s hallmark.

Abravanel, Isaac ben Judah (1437-1508; Portuguese Torah scholar, diplomat, financier, mystic, and communal leader) interprets the repetition as an inclusive, egalitarian statement:  economic status does not preclude offering a sacrifice, which is a way of coming close to God.  Each offering is legitimate, valued, and rewarded, as long as it represents the best of your ability.  Abravanel agrees with the rabbis of the Talmudic period, who state, “It is the same whether one does more or less, provided he intends it for the sake of heaven (Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 5b).  This seems so commonsensical it’s easy to overlook how astonishing an approach it is.

What is remarkable is the emphasis given to intention.  The Torah’s laws generally provide rigid boundaries and categories for behaviors, which can be observed.  Intent is much harder to quantify, let alone verify.  Yet, the rabbis acknowledge that inner motivation not only counts, but is critical!  Being “religious,” then, isn’t necessarily defined only by the observance and performance of ritual acts.  It is also measured by internal attitude and individual intent.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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