Blog Vayikra Nisan 3 5780 בלוג וַיִּקְרָא, ג’ ניסן תש”פ
This book Vayikra – “And He called”- better known as the book of Leviticus, is also called the Book of the Cohanim. It has three themes: 1) the Korbanot, the offerings 2) Tahor and Tamei, what is clean and unclean, proper and improper and 3) Holiness and the separation of His people. This book also describes the duties of the Cohanim and is covered in a period of just one month. There are many teachings and principles in Vayikra which we can learn to apply to our lives. It shows us that the LORD is always with us no matter how difficult our situation may be. Today with Covid19, we are experiencing something new for us since most of us were not around during the last plague of 1918, the Spanish Flu. It has paralyzed the modern world system and has forced us to be separated and isolated from our loved ones. Some of us are being forced to learn once again how to be a family. Our modern world has created people who are independent and individualistic. Now because of being in enforced isolation, we are seeking ways of being in community. There is a relationship with this portion even though we may not see it at first.
No one likes to be in a situation where we feel out of control. That is exactly what is happening to us today with this pandemic. On whom can we depend? Many of us do not know when we will see our next paycheque. We are afraid to go outside in case we come down with the virus. It was like that in ancient Israel. They had been totally taken care of, but now they would have to care for themselves. It was terrifying for them. The Creator had to slowly gain their trust. He allowed the korban or sacrificial system because they were accustomed to those ideas from the pagan practices of the Egyptians, but He would slowly start to change their meaning and the direction of their focus from the pagan gods to Himself. He wanted them to focus upon Him instead of the various gods for whatever they needed. Now they would not be able to set up altars wherever they wanted but to do it in an orderly way since our God is a God of order who says, “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). He would slowly wean the Israelites away from paganism as a mother weans her child away from nursing. This process would not be simple because it is easy to be totally dependent and have someone else solve all our problems.
The last letter “ אAleph” of the Hebrew word Vayikra is written smaller than the other letters indicating that He calls on us without imposition (it is called z’air – זעיר – tiny). If the Creator humbles Himself when He calls us, how much more must we humble ourselves as we approach Him? It is not easy to understand. From the time that we are babies, we think that we are the center of the universe. As we grow, we learn that this is not the case. The Creator calls each of us for a special assignment. He directs our lives even though we often prefer to go on our own path. Some people prefer to go through walls instead of walking through the door that is open for us.
The word Korban – קָרְבָּן – comes from the root kerev – קרב – which means to “draw near or approach”. If you get away from the theological biases that have been fed us over the years and look at Biblical Judaism, you will see that the Creator speaks to all mankind, not just to Israel.
We have all grown up with one religion or another when we were young; we have been influenced by these teachings and have developed paradigms which now form us. Whenever we are challenged by something that lies outside of our system of beliefs, we feel uncomfortable and even rebel. Don’t worry about being challenged, worry more about not being willing to be challenged. Here Israel is coming out of slavery, out of an idolatrous environment in which they had been living for over 200 years. That had become natural to them and their children were accepting these as truths. The Creator was taking them out whether they wanted to leave or not. They had become very comfortable and would now be forced by the Creator to change their focus of dependency from paganism to one God.
The Creator told the people, (using the word “adam” – אָדָם – for man) to bring a voluntary offering to Him. He never forces anyone to believe in Him or to give anything to Him. The use of adam suggests the universality of the message. This puts the onus upon the person to bring the offering willingly to the Ochel Moed. In this way, we become responsible. Many religions teach us that all we need to do is to cross our arms and pray and to be blindly submitted. The offerings were brought to the Creator by those who were willing to acknowledge who He is and give Him thanks; they were also to admit that they had done something wrong “involuntarily” and needed to be forgiven. There was no forgiveness for intentional sins. These could only be forgiven through “teshuva”, turning back to God, but the consequences remained intact.
This book speaks of five offerings 1) the Olah – עֹלָה – which to me gives us the understanding of being elevated, 2) Mincha – מִנְחָה – dry cereal or grain offerings, 3) Chataat – חַטָּאת – missing the mark, 4) Shelamim – שְׁלָמִים – peace or thanksgiving offering, and 5) Asham – אָשָׁם – the guilt offering. Each one plays a very important role within our psyche. The first is about our relationship with God alone and the second shows us that blood was not needed to forgive our sins, that our God is not a bloodthirsty God. He spoke first about the Olah and second the dry offerings pointing to the offerings of Abel and Cain. Abel brought the “first fruits” of his animals while Cain brought “a” grain offering. It has nothing to do with one being an animal and accepting the shedding of blood as compared with rejecting the grain offering. It had to do with their “kavanah – intention” in giving. Abel brought the best while Cain brought “an” offering. When we serve God and the community, it should come from our whole heart. When we pray is it coming from our hearts or are we simply showing off? The Creator gives us a sense of security, safety and belonging. Let us lift up our prayers wholeheartedly not because we need Him especially during these dark days but because we love Him. Let us be strong knowing that He is taking care of us throughout this difficult process that we are going through.