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

“No grain offering that you offer to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for no leavenor honey may be turned into smoke as a gift to the Lord.” (Leviticus 2:11)

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. Because Vayikra is both arcane and gory, it is a tough read; many consider Biblical sacrificial worship primitive at best, and more often than not, revolting. Because Biblical sacrifices were “lifted up” to God (Lev. 1:9), commentators look for uplifting messages within the technical instructions.

Vayikra instructs, “When any person among you brings an offering to God… “(Lev. 1:2) Pesikta Rabati (Medieval commentary on the festivals of the year) shifts the focus from the sacrifice to the person by citing the verse, “Honor Adonai with whatever excellence God has given you…” (Prov. 3:9) to teach Vayikra is saying whatever talents you have, dedicate them to God. The S’fat Emet (1847-1905; Yehudah Leib Alter, 2nd Rebbe of the Gerer Chassidim) uses the verse, “Nullify your will before his will.” (Pirkei Avot 2:4) similarly: don’t just try to come close to God; commit yourself actively and completely to God. Martin Buber (1878–1965; Austrian-born Jewish philosopher) uses the story of the Torah’s first sacrifices “And Abel, he too brought an offering… “(Gen. 4:4), to personalize that message further. The extraneous “he” is what made Abel’s sacrifice pleasing; he brought himself. Vayikra is saying don’t worry about the animal, just bring yourself to God.

Today, to sacrifice means to give up something and usually implies regret or reluctance. Biblical sacrifice, though, is a joyous affirmation of relationship. Giving brings getting.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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