Shabbat Table Talk
Parashat Vayikra Shabbat, April 1st , 2017
Week of March 26th – 31st
Torah portion: Lev.1:1 – 5:26 Haftarah: Is. 43:21 – 44:23
Central to the Book of Leviticus is the theme of holiness with the express command, “You shall be holy for I, the Lord am holy.” (Ex.19:2) The opening words of our parashah Vayikra, are a call to Moses to explain to the people the meaning and practice of offerings made to God. The offering, korban means ‘to bring close or to come near’ and this action reflects their covenantal bond with God. This is the book that young children first begin to study for it lays the foundation of a relationship with God.
“Our concern in reading Leviticus needs to be more than an historical account of what the Israelites believed and practiced then. It should be an effort to understand the religious needs that were met by these practices in ancient times, needs that we still confront today, and the religious practices that were taught in the process.”(Etz Hayim p.585)
The religions of Biblical times all offered animal sacrifices and the Israelites could not conceive of religion without it. Perhaps following the worship of the Golden Calf, God saw their inability to deal with a totally abstract notion of God and provided a sacrificial system for them to follow. The Midrash envisions God saying, “Better that they bring their offerings to My table rather than they bring them before idols.”(Etz Hayim p.586)
When one offers a sacrifice to God, the individual submits to the sovereignty of God as Creator. In actuality one comes to terms with his/her own role in God’s universal plan helping us to internalize the concept that God’s will takes priority over everything else. Whatever we offer must be done with the right intention remembering that our offering implies our coming near to God as we declare, “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your Word.” (Ps. 119:16)
Each of these five types of offerings all had the elements that could be described in three words – that of giving, thanksgiving and forgiving. This ritual which united the Israelites as a people expressed their belief in God and their submission to God. The words from Psalm 51 sum up the true meaning of offering a sacrifice to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me.” (NRS)
As we read in the haftarah, Isaiah describes God’s relationship with Israel using many maternal images, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb.” (Is. 44:24) …. “Your Maker, your Creator who has helped you since birth,” (Is.44:2) When Isaiah speaks of teshuvah, it is of the promise of reconciliation, of returning to God’s open arms.
With the destruction of the Second Temple, animal sacrifices ceased and prayer and fasting became the contemporary equivalent of a sacrifice. Each generation needs to find ways to make God present in any new situation. The prophet, Micah speaks not of animal sacrifices but of the primacy of justice and love, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:6)
For Reflection and Discussion: Are giving, thanksgiving and forgiving part of my daily life?
Bibliography: Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); Rabbi Uziel Milevsky, Perspectives on the Parashah (Southfield, MI.,2002), Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, The Women’s Haftarah Commentary, (Woodstock,VT., 2004)
This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by
Rita Kammermayer, nds, BA, B.Ed, Masters of Pastoral Studies
Bat Kol alumni 2001
[Copyright © 2017]
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