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

“And the remainder of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons, a most holy portion from the Lord’s gifts.” (Leviticus 2:3)

Leviticus, the third book of the Torah, is a tough read.  It has neither the intrigue of the family squabbles of Genesis, nor the epic sweep of the divine revelation and nation-building that comprise Exodus.  Plot and character development are absent; there’s no story to follow.  Still, the rabbis held that Leviticus was the core of the Torah because of its emphasis of the concept of k’dusha.

K’dusha is translated sometimes as holiness and sometimes as sanctity.  It is translated more accurately as otherness, or distinctiveness.  That is, the central idea in Leviticus (and the Torah) is God’s and the Jewish people’s distinctiveness.  Because God is distinct, the Jewish people must be distinct (Leviticus 19:2).  All of the rituals described in the opening parasha (portion) and in the book, are merely expressions of that distinctiveness, or k’dusha.

The rituals of Leviticus serve an additional purpose, though:  the embedding of k’dusha into daily life.  God’s revelation on Mt. Sinai was certainly a moment of k’dusha.  The problem is that Mt. Sinai was, literally, a peak moment.  By definition, you can’t “live” in peak moments; they are simply too intense to experience constantly.  What Leviticus does is explain how to remind ourselves of that peak moment’s k’dusha in the midst of the mundane activities of daily life.

Of course, this raises a critical question for North American Jews:  in lands of freedom, and in an era of universalism and pluralism, why be distinct?  Why not be like everybody else?  Leviticus describes how to be distinct.  JCCs offer reasons to be distinct.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,


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