Friday, March 16, 2018

Parashat Vayikra - Family Service

     Shabbat Shalom! This week, we start a new book of the Torah: Leviticus. In Hebrew, the Book of Leviticus is called Vayikra. The first Torah portion in each new book is named after the book we are beginning to read, so this week’s Torah portion is called Parashat Vayikra, for the first few words are “Vayikra el Moshe // And God called to Moses.”

     Now that the Israelites are out of Egypt, and Moses has descended from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, and they have all built the Mishkan, God calls to Moses a lot. God and Moses are having one-on-one check ins for pretty much the rest of the Torah, with few interludes of stories about what else is happening among the people. In Leviticus, a lot of what God needs to tell Moses about is how to properly use the Mishkan they have just finished building as a place to come close to God. In Hebrew, the word for “sacrifices” or “offerings” comes from the same root as the word “to draw near”, because back in the desert, giving sacrifices or making a physical offering to God was how people could feel close to God.

     Nowadays, we don’t have a Mishkan and we don’t give sacrifices or any kind of physical offering to God. Instead, we pray. Although we like to pray all together when we gather on Friday nights, or during Sunday School Tefillah, or on holidays, or whenever else we might find ourselves all together in this room, any of us can actually pray almost anywhere at any time.

     The Talmud, a big old book of rabbis arguing with each other, says that when the Torah uses the same phrase over and over again in this parasha to describe the different types of offerings as all being “a sweet smell”, it’s to teach us that whether a person could afford to give a whole cow as their offering, or they could only give a bird, or maybe they didn’t have any livestock to give and could only bring flour, it was the act of bringing it that makes it sweet to God. God sees that each person brought what they could, and even if it was different from what another person brought, it was just as acceptable for God.

     This is true about our prayers, too, which have completely replaced the sacrifices for the last 2000 years. Whether you know all the words to the prayers in the Siddur, or you just like to bop along to the tunes. Whether you pray silently on your own every night, or you only prayer once in a while when someone is leading you in a service, each prayer you offer is accepted by the Divine Power that hears us all. That doesn’t mean that everything you ask for in your prayers will be granted, but I believe that the Holy One listens and knows when we pray, and will shine a light on our pathways through life, a light that shines brighter if you know to look for it.

     May the offerings of your heart be sweet to the Divine Spirit, and may you feel close to each other in holiness, tonight and always. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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