Getting Up Close and Personal With God

on Thursday, 30 March 2017. Posted in Torah Talks

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Torah Talk on Vayikra 5777

This week we begin reading the middle book of the Torah, Vayikra or Leviticus.  Vayikra presents an entirely new challenge to the student of Torah: how do we find relevance in a portion that reflects religious practices that have been obsolete for nearly 2000 years?

The rites of the sacrificial cult that flourished in the days of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem have been replaced for nearly two millennia by prayer, study, and a variety of other religious actions (mitzvot).  Vayikra is a how-to book on korbanot, sacrifices.  What can we take from a parshah replete with the ways to slaughter animals, the proper division of their bodies for placing on the altar, and the different categories of sacrifices so offered?

One linguistic hint exists in the word for sacrifice, korban.  The Hebrew root for sacrifice actually also means “to bring near”, kareiv, as in the Passover Haggadah text kareiv yom, “bring near the day…”  When we bring an animal to sacrifice we are seeking to move close to God, not only to approach the power of Divine acceptance but also to come near to God in every way.  We may no longer choose to do this by actually giving up a valuable possession—remember, livestock were like SUV’s in their economic meaning to our ancestors—let alone by killing something.  But we can still seek to find powerful and humbling ways to bring ourselves closer to God and holiness.

When we pray with sincerity, meditate with meaning, and reach out to find the flow of divine energy ever-present in the world we can discover the true essence of Vayikra.  When we act to further justice in our world, to ease the suffering of the impoverished, to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, we are bringing ourselves closer to God.  If we act in these ways we, like our ancestors of old, may find that our sacrifice of time, energy, and attention will bring us to holiness, too.  

Plan to join us for our fabulous Second Night Passover Seder at Temple Emanu-El on Tuesday, April 11th at 6 PM—call 327-4501 to make a reservation.  And don’t miss the Extraordinary Janos Wilder Passover Experience on Saturday night, April 15th at the Carriage House—see herefor more information!

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