This week’s Parsha is Vayikra, the first portion of the book of Leviticus, a book famous for meticulously detailing all of the ethical laws that are meant to give morality to the lives of Am Yisrael. In this portion, G-d instructs Moses on the laws of sacrifice which Moses then details to the Israelites. Sacrifices are to be made for acts such as inadvertent sins, lying under contract, and many other violations that are expounded upon within the later verses of Vayikra.
Due to the fact that the Jews have left the practice of sacrifice in the second century, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asserts that the verses of Vayikra “are some of the hardest in the Torah to relate to the present.” However, if the Torah itself is meant to be a timeless classic, a sort of ancient Hamlet that yields infinite interpretations and connections to our daily lives, then these sacrificial practices, by proxy, still have tons of relevance to today.
Vayikra discusses three types of animal fit for sacrificial slaughter: the cattle, the flock, and the ambiguous ‘animal.’ These all belong under the category of “wild beasts.” G-d has not commanded us to take the flesh and soul of a playful dachshund or a benign hummingbird. This is not to say that their lives are worth any less, but rather G-d’s lesson is two-fold. For one, he is forcing us to recognize the intrinsic differences in the roles of different species and how this biological diversity creates a unique world. Second, he wants the Israelites to be reminded of their bestial qualities. Our abrasive carelessness could lead to the hurt of another in the same way that a bull’s horns could impale a friend. Our curiosity could lead to deceit in the same way a goat exploring the wilderness could abandon a fellow creature.
Leviticus 2:3 says, “And the remainder of the meal offering shall be for Aaron and his sons, a most holy portion from יהוה’s offerings by fire.” By sacrificing the animal, we are symbolically sacrificing the parts of ourselves that exhibit their qualities. Once these qualities are extinguished, room is now created to allow our virtuous qualities to shine through. We can enjoy our lives, or as Leviticus puts it, enjoy the meal. However, these negative qualities or fat of the animal are burned and deemed holy enough to be sent to G-d. In this way, these characteristics might be viewed through a positive lens: our traits, despite bearing the cause of our sins, have served their purpose in teaching us about morality and how we can live kinder and more fulfilling lives; these traits are still considered sacred, but they are simply of no use to us now.
The rite of sacrifice allowed the Israelites to purge themselves of not just their sins, but also the cause of them. Vayikra teaches us that not only can we learn from our mistakes, but that our mistakes have innate value as they help to guide us along the דרך, or path, of life.
Dina Shluffman, GJHRR
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All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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