Thursday, March 14, 2013

Parashat Vayikra - Modern Sacrifice

*I wrote this, and then as I was writing the concluding paragraph, remembered that this Saturday is the Passover Model Seder for the Hebrew school kids instead of regular services, so I don't actually have to deliver a d'var Torah. Oh well!*

This week’s parasha is one long speech from G-d. As we open the book of Leviticus, having just finished preparing the tabernacle in Exodus, we find no new narrative, no speeches from Moses, no new mischievousness from the people. Just G-d. G-d telling Moses to tell the Israelites about proper sacrifices. The Hebrew word for sacrifices, korban, literally means to draw near. G-d is telling Moses all the different ways for the Israelites to be nearer to G-d. And there are a lot of different ways in this parasha. There’s a sacrifice to do purely out of love and exultation of G-d, there’s a sacrifice to be done alongside a request of G-d, there’s a sacrifice to do in case of a sin, there’s even a sacrifice to be done if you discover you have mistakenly done something wrong!
This week’s haftarah scolds the people for turning away from sacrifice. Although we also no longer offer sacrifices in the way the Torah lays out, we do have modern ways to similarly get near to G-d, unlike the people in the haftarah, who had turned completely from the message and meaning of the sacrifices. Today, we have songs of prayer that are joyous and help us express love for G-d and our community. There are prayers to ask for things from G-d. There is one way we might apologize to someone we’ve knowingly hurt, and another way we would apologize to them if they explained to us that something we did by accident also hurt them, and different ways we might ask G-d for forgiveness for those things, too, even after the person has forgiven us. The apologies with our fellow person help us get closer to humanity, and the follow up prayer with G-d helps set our minds at ease that our friends mean it when they say they’ve forgiven us.
Besides prayer, we do offer sacrifices as well, just a different sort of sacrifice, and that also helps us get closer to each other and to G-d. Two weeks, we were short one snack in the class, but two classmates offered to share with each other. Rather than fight over the last snack, they were both willing to sacrifice half, to make sure everyone got some. When I suggested that everyone in the class contribute one fruit snack to the pair sharing, so that they would have more to share, everyone did. It wasn’t a big sacrifice, but it made a difference to the two that had been sharing. Whenever you are charitable, it is a sacrifice, because you are giving up something of your own, even if it is a small something. In doing so, you are helping out another person. That makes the community grow closer, which can help everyone get closer to G-d.
As we begin to study the book of Leviticus, with its weird archaic laws, and it’s lack of narrative, let us keep in mind, that there is still much to learn from it. May we all learn to offer our small sacrifices with an open heart, and draw near to G-d and to each other. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

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