Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26
This week we begin the book of Leviticus. The first parsha/portion bears the name of the entire book of Leviticus “Vayikra” – “And God called to Moses.” (Lev.1:1). This book calls us to come close to God through the sacrificial system.
The word for sacrifice, korban is from the Hebrew root KRV. This root is the same as karov—to come near, to come close. The sacrifices that are outlined in this book and in particular this portion helped the Israelites draw closer in communion with God. Whether they brought a guilt offering or sin offering as described in this parasha, the sacrifice helped to restore them, expiate their sin and reconstitute an individual as whole and forgiven when they followed the formulas listed in the portion.
For us moderns it is hard to imagine that the slaughter of an animal would bring us closer to God.
That is why the priest is given such detailed instructions in how to slaughter the animal. Its death isn’t just wanton killing but in the Torah’s view a sacred moment of transformation. The offering is a gift. And that gift to God is sacred food. Similarly today the rules of kosher slaughter developed from these ancient rituals. The rules are an attempt to be mindful that the life of the animal is sacred and is an offering of its life to sustain our lives.
In our day and time there is no sacrificial system. We can’t bring two goats, or a bull or three pigeons to expiate our sins or to offer thanksgiving to God for the good things. This system of sacrifice was lost when the Temple was finally destroyed by the Romans in year 70 C.E. And most of us today wouldn’t want to bring an animal sacrifice. Even though, traditional prayers ask for the restoration of the Temple sacrificial service. But how do we draw near and draw close to God?
How do we rebalance our relationship with the Holy One when we have sinned? When we transgressed? Of course we have Yom Kippur Day-the Day of Atonement. On that day we learn a very important formula – Repentance, Prayer and Charity along with confession and making amends with those we have harmed. This becomes the way to renew and rebuild our relationship with God and with our community. For some things we have to pay reparations to those we have harmed. But we don’t have to wait until Yom Kippur because the daily Amidah has an opportunity to ask God to forgive and pardon any transgression.
Finally drawing near to God is more than just seeking forgiveness for our sins. Drawing near to God is something that we can do from within our own minds and hearts. When we live out are mitzvot in action we draw close to God. When we pray with kavannah, with sincere intent we draw ourselves close to God. When we build sacred community like the synagogue we are in communion with God.
All this helps us hear the call of our God, “Vayikra” and God called.