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

“When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the LORD,
you shall choose your offering from the herd or from the flock.” (Leviticus 1:2)

Vayikra (“And he called”) is the name of this week’s parasha (portion) and the entire third (and central) book of the Torah. It gives detailed instructions to the kohanim, or priests, on how to offer the various sacrifices in the mishkan, or Tabernacle. Sacrifice, of course, means something very different today than it did in the Torah. And it means something different today even from three weeks ago.

Sacrifice means to give up something of value. It derives from two Latin words meaning “to make holy.” But Vayikra commands each Israelite, “…adam ki yakriv korbanchem, when any individual presents your korban of cattle, to the Lord…” (Lev. 1:2) Korban often is translated as sacrifice but that doesn’t capture the words nuance. Korban comes from the Hebrew root KRB, which means to draw near, bring close, or join together. “Bringing-closer offering” is a better translation, but clunky. “Communion offering,” “fellowship offering,” or just plain “offering”, are each more elegant, because they convey the purpose of the act: to bring the individual closer to God.

Michael Sandel (Harvard Professor and political philosopher) notices two phrases have come to characterize the Covid-19 crisis: “social distancing” and “we’re all in it together.” Normally, those phrases oppose one another, representing the individual versus the collective. But the concept of korban ties them together: we each make an individual fellowship offering of keeping our distance in order to serve the common good of the collective. This is supported by the language of Vayikra’s second verse: the command begins in the singular (adam, a person), but concludes in the plural (korbanchem, your offerings). From a distance, we’re in it together.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
Zay Gezund/Be Healthy

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