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Rabbi Lisa's Message

March 27, 2024

Last week we began a new book of the Torah, Leviticus (Vayikra in Hebrew). Have I lost you already!? The book of Leviticus takes a sharp turn from the dramatic and suspenseful narrative of the two books that precede it (Genesis and Exodus), and reads more as a policy and procedural manual. For that reason, many cannot relate to it. 

In this week’s parasha, we continue with the sacrificial system. G-d outlines to Moses, in great detail, the systems of offerings the People shall bring (burnt offerings, grain offerings, the offering of well-being, and a variety of purification offerings). These sacrificial offerings are called korbanot, and are brought to the altar in the desert Mishkan (portable tabernacle).

For some, this parasha seems completely irrelevant, strange, not for our times. We don’t practice this way anymore, so the content of Leviticus feels like an archaic relic from the past.

With that in mind, Rabbi Claire Magidovitch Green reminds us that Torah keeps us in touch with who we were. For 13 centuries we spoke to G-d in the medium of animal sacrifice. Seems removed? Yes, of course it does! She also says the creative genius of rabbinic Judaism replaced the message and the messenger of the sacrificial cult with the formula of study, prayer, and loving acts. This is literally the bridge the Rabbis created from ancient Temple practice to contemporary Judaism: 

The world stands upon three things: the Torah, the Temple service, and the practice of acts of piety. - Pirkei Avot 1:2

We no longer have a central temple. We no longer make the same kinds of animal and meal offerings our ancestors did. But there is much we can learn from their practices. Korban, the word for sacrifice used in this week’s Torah portion also means to draw close. The question for us as modern Jews is what does it mean to draw close? To what we are drawing close? Is it similar to what our people have always sought? Holiness? A sense of connection and awe? Intuitively we know this type of divine connection is a human need. And of course this need evolves and changes as humans evolve and change.

Can study, prayer, and engaging in acts of loving kindness really bring us that same sense of closeness to the sacred that our ancestors sought? What’s wonderful about being part of a Jewish community like CBI is that we offer many ways to engage in all three of these contemporary korbanot. Just by showing up, we have the opportunity to move near. Closer to each other. Closer to a sacred center.

The content of Leviticus may seem irrelevant, inaccessible. However, this year maybe we can read it with more curiosity and empathy for our People, who longed for closeness just as we do.

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