This Shabbat we begin the third of the five books of the Torah. Throughout the book of Vayikra, God teaches Moses the laws and specifications regarding the Holy Temple, the Priestly responsibilities, and the offering of sacrifices. In this week’s parsha, God instructs Moses on the five main types of sacrifices. When the Holy Temple stood, sacrificial offerings were a typical part of Jewish ritual. Now, thousands of years later in the modern age, it can be difficult to understand the meaning of animal sacrifices. For this reason, many scholars struggle to apply Parshat Vayikra, and moreover the entire book of Vayikra, to our daily lives as Jews. What lessons can we take from a parsha about burnt offerings in a time when we no longer offer sacrifices? Has this parsha become nothing more than a forgotten users’ manual for an outdated device we have long since stopped using? Or is there more to this parsha than what meets the eye?
In the Torah, the word used to describe a sacrifice is a Korban. The root of the Hebrew word, korban, are the letters Kuf, Reish, Vet. When you put these letters together, it spells the Hebrew word Karov, meaning “close.” Obviously, the Jews could not come physically close to God, so they did the next best thing. By burning offerings, they allowed the smoke to rise up and reach the heavens, signaling their devotion, and spiritually bringing themselves closer to God. This is the true purpose of sacrifices—unable to come physically close to God, the Israelites gave a piece of themselves in order to become spiritually closer to God. After the destruction of the Second Temple when they could no longer offer daily sacrifices, the Jewish people developed a new tradition. Long ago, our rabbis decided that Jews would gather three times a day to form a holy minyan, a group of ten or more people, united as one congregation. When we could no longer become close to God, we turned and grew closer to our fellow human beings.
In times of struggle, we often turn to the members of our community. We look for a shoulder to cry on or we assemble in one place to show that we are strongest when we are together, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder. Suddenly, this is no longer an option. We are currently facing a strange and discomforting moment in history. Our days are filled with uncertainty, our lives placed on hold. We find that by the very nature of the current situation, we are unable to gather as a community. Instead, we practice social distancing and keep away from other people in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. This could leave many feeling helpless, isolated, alone.
When our ancestors could not be close to God, they shared a piece of their own wealth through offering a korban. Maybe we can do the same. Right now, all we want is to be close to each other; this week’s parsha tells us that there is option other than physical proximity. We can become close by sharing a little piece of ourselves with one another.
We are so incredibly fortunate that BBYO has provided for us an open platform to connect and stay close to our friends and our international communities while maintaining a safe distance. Within just days of its launch, BBYO On Demand was flooded with unique programs submitted by Alephs and BBGs who chose to give a little piece of themselves to make others happy during this time. A musically talented friend sacrifices 30 minutes of her time to lead a Perlman song session, and she significantly brightens the day of 20 kids stuck at home in between virtual classes. A group of guys broadcast their personal conversations and keep 100 attendants doubling over in laughter for an hour on a Sunday night. A girl from Virginia patiently teaches her friend from Slovakia how to knit a scarf. Every one of us has something unique to share with the world, and now, we actually can.
In the last week, as we have grown more comfortable with our new virtual platform, we have explored new ways to affect positive change. Our Genocide Education Committee connected us to Dr. Deborah Lipstadt who taught us about embracing Judaism in times of struggle and Sammy Steigman, a victim of Nazi medical experimentation who is a living embodiment of the power of perseverance in the face of pain. On Monday we learned from politician and activist, Natan Sharansky, whose experiences in a Siberian gulag made him all too familiar with the concept of true social isolation. On Sunday, we will gather on our computer screens from all across the world and participate in the first-ever virtual J-Serve, willingly sacrificing our time, effort, and resources to provide comfort and support to the people who need it most.
Through these opportunities and more, we can learn to embrace the lesson of Parshat Vayikra. During this time when we cannot be physically karov (close), we have once again found a way to share a piece of ourselves and grow closer despite the distance that separates us. Wishing you and your families a happy, healthy, meaningful Shabbat and a week filled with the joy and connectedness found in giving to others.
Thank you and Shabbat shalom to all.
Aleph Ari M. Slomka
Greater Atlanta Region
26th Regional Shaliach
Read commentary on this week's Parsha from BBYO teens around the world.
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