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Vayikra – A thought for the week by Mike Lewis

This week is the reading the first Sedra of the third book of the Torah, in English called Leviticus. It was originally called Torat Cohanim, the law of the priests since it details temple practice. We know it as Vayikra, which translates as “he called” referring to God calling to Moses in the Tent of Meeting.

Vayikra is about sacrifices, although these laws have been inoperative for almost 2000 years since the destruction of the Temple.  How can we make sense of these in today’s times? Maimonides, in the 12th century understood sacrifices as something the people of that time expected. Here and now, in the 21st century and, especially in the present times, what meaning is there in the sacrificial system?

The term “sacrifice” comes from a Latin word meaning “to make something holy.” The most common Hebrew equivalent is korban, “something brought near,” i.e., to the altar.  We are told of different types of offering.

  • An ascending offering

  • A meal offering

  • A peace offering

  • A sin offering

This last offering, the sin offering, has been interpreted in different ways.

  • Samson Raphael Hirsh taught that ignorance of the law is negligence.

  • Abarbanel taught that it was to warn against future transgressions

  • Nachmanides taught that sin defiles

  • A fundamentalist view is that sins indicate something wrong with the person concerned i.e.: Bad things do not come from good people

That last teaching, I find troubling. Does a faulty mezuzah bring illness to the family within? Does the current Coronavirus pandemic derive from what may be looked at as a failure to strictly observe all the mitzvoth?

“Vayikra” means “he called. “There are times when God calls us to a task; to show care and healing. That is what we are faced with today, within our families, our community and our nation. May we all go forward in good health and safety to Pesach and beyond.

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