Parshat Vayikra: Leviticus 1:1-5:26; Isaiah 43:21-44:23

This week we begin the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, Leviticus.

It is easy to write something about Genesis as it is full of stories of families that we can still relate to today. It is equally easy to compose a piece about Exodus with its accounts of slavery, emancipation, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and the construction of our very first sanctuary, the Mishkan. But what to do we say about Vayikra with its multiple lists of sacrifices and admonitions to remain ritually clean and strive for holiness?

Rabbi Mitch Parker Jackie Headapohl | Detroit Jewish News

I would like to suggest that this book, with its numerous details, is all about our attempt to approach the Divine. In earlier days, Vayikra was the first book of the Bible taught to our youngest children because it was thought that they were the most pure and sinless and perhaps best able to communicate with God.

In years past, when I worked at Camp Ramah, I participated in daily summer services with a group of campers who were diagnosed with developmental challenges. I always looked forward to the experience because I felt these campers had a special relationship with and the ability to communicate with God perhaps because they did not carry with them the skeptical baggage most of us are burdened with as we age.

So, how do we as sophisticated adults reach out to God? Our ancestors did so by bringing korbanot, which is often translated as sacrifices, but really means “bring close” in Hebrew. They brought their choicest animals from the herd, their first fruits and flour meal and spices as tokens of thanks to God for the gifts of life or as expiation for misdeeds. They also realized these gifts could only be offered with the proper preparations of mind, body and behavior. Kedushah, holiness, was an important prerequisite for the spiritual journey.

Today, we no longer bring animals for sacrifice, nor would most of us want to. What can we do to have a talk with God? First, we need to set the mundane aside, move away from our busy daily and often hectic schedules. Then we must work to create a holy space in our homes, outdoors or in a synagogue, a space than can enhance our sense that there is something beyond our mortal selves, waiting and yearning for us to reach out. Finally, we need to open the channels of communication to thank, plead, praise or chastise the creator of the universe.

In our world this korban or coming close can be done with words, song, dance or even silence, with certainty or with more than a smidgen of doubt.

God may not always answer our prayers, just as there was often no immediate response to the sacrifices of the past, but God is always there to listen.

Rabbi Mitch Parker is rabbi emeritus of B’nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield.

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