This week we begin the third book of our Torah,
the book of Vayikra,
the book of Leviticus.
And unfortunately, many people consider this the boring book of the Torah.
Or one of the boring books of the Torah,
or maybe not surprisingly,
I don’t agree with that assessment.
And I think that if you look at the first two chapters of this week’s Torah portion, we can actually get something quite important.
In fact, traditionally, many years ago, I still remember, when I was a young child,
and we were taught Torah for the very first time,
Vayikra was the very first book that we started with.
We did not start with Bereshit, , Genesis,
We started with Vayikra,
Then Bamidbar, Numbers, and Devarim, Deuteronomy,
and only then, went back and did Bereshit, Genesis and Shemot, Exodus.
So I just want everyone to just, for one second, put yourself in a mindset of having not really learned much about Judaism yet,
and you open your Torah commentaries
or you open the Torah to this week’s parashah and
the first two chapters of Vayikra are the first things that you ever learn.
What are you going to take away from those two chapters?
What are you going to think are the most important lessons that you could know about Judaism?
So the first two chapters of Vayikra, and actually the first chapters of our entire parashah,
deal all with sacrifices.
It is a list, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph, of the different sacrifices that the ancient Israelites brought to the temple to atone for different things, just as offerings for thanks to God throughout the year,
So what do we learn from that?
If it’s a list of sacrifices for the first two chapters, what do we take away from it?
I think there are two important lessons that we learn from this.
The first important lesson is that ritual services connect us to the divine.
Ritual is our entry point to a relationship with God.
Sacrifices in this week’s parashah are expressed all, every single one of them, as some type of call to G-D.
A thank you,
every single one represents
“now we are having a conversation with the Divine.”
And in fact, the word for sacrifice in Hebrew, korban,
actually comes from the Hebrew root, karov, which means “to come close to.”
And so we are using these sacrifices as a method of bringing us closer establishing a connection with G-D.
Now we today do not practice sacrifices, as modern Jews. But we instead substitute the ritual of prayer.
And so if we think about
sacrifice as a metaphor and prayer as our ritual,
we learn that
organized prayer brings us closer to G-D.
The 2nd Lesson we learn:
if we look a little bit further into the second chapter of Vayikra,
we read a verse that says:
when you bring a grain offering to G-D, you should not include any leaven or any honey (Lev. 2:11).
No leaven and no honey.
Why do we think that those are the two things that are restricted?
What could leaven and honey represent?
Honey is sweetness,
and Leaven means bread the stuff you use to make bread rise,
a kind of filler.
When I think about those two, sweetness and filler,
I think of something to make it more attractive!
When we bring a sacrifice,
it should not be embellished. When we come close to G-D we should not come with our embellishments, our decorations!
We should come only as our pure selves.
And I mean that not in a clean or unclean kind of way,
but I mean as our true selves.
And especially as we think about the holiday of Pesach,
when we know that during the holiday of Passover we clean our homes of leaven,
we get rid of all the extra ,
all of the stuff that seems heavy and puffy
and we try to return to a sense of who are we,
what is our most important value,
and on Passover
we remind ourselves that our most important value is freedom
and we thank G-D for that gift of freedom.
On the one hand,
organised prayer brings us closer to G-D,
and on the other hand,
when we do come close to G-D,
we should come as our true selves.
So what do these mean to us today?
Every week we experience the tragedy of a senseless killing of children, adults anywhere ,any places in the world!
And we think about hearing those news, how do we react to that?
There are some of us who have the great gift of being able to react to that tragedy with spontaneous prayer and spontaneous connection to G-D,
to give us the comfort the strength
to give us the opportunity to try and make sense of this awful, awful event.
But then are some of us who may not be able to connect immediately,
And for us, we need the organised ritual.
We need to be here tonight and sing prayers with each other
to be with each other,
to experience the connection that is going to help us get through those tragedies.
And so I would like to end with the lessons of Vayikra.
May we all be together experience G-D together,
our true selves.