1998Much of Leviticus with its details of sacrifices and the minutiae of the functions performed in the Sanctuary can make even the most adept and scholarly among us feel "sermonically challenged".
Message from the Heartland
It is heartening to realize that this was not just a problem for the modern sensibility, but even the rabbis of the Talmud and the ancient Midrash had to find ways to glean meaning from these arcane verses for their congregations. In the following Midrash on Parshat Tzav, the Rabbis examine a verse from Psalms where they are struck with the comparison of the sacrifices to a broken spirit and a crushed heart.
The Psalmist wishes to emphasize that the power of the ritual is entirely dependent on the heartfelt intention of the one who is performing the sacrifice.
Your Midrash Navigator
Read the Midrash and try to understand the following: Is there a relationship between being good and being in despair? Why do sacrifices require a heart that is contrite, full of regret? If that is truly what is important then why have the sacrifice at all? In the larger context, why is it necessary to ritualize feelings with actions that are prescribed for the whole community? How do we prove that are broken hearts are real?
Midrash: Vayikra (Leviticus) Rabba 7:2
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, God,
You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.
May it please You to make Zion prosper; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will want sacrifices offered in righteousness...? (Psalms. 51:19).
Zabdi ben Levi, and Rabbi Jose ben Petros and the Rabbis gave interpretations.
One of them said: David said before the Holy One: "I sacrificed my Evil Inclination and repented before You; if You will accept my repentance, I will know that Solomon my son will arise and build the Sanctuary, build the altar and offer the sacrifices commanded in the Torah."
This we conclude from these verses:
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, God, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart." May it please You to make Zion prosper; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will want sacrifices offered in righteousness...(ib. 19f.). The other [opinion] said: Where do we know that if a man repents it counts as if he had gone up to Jerusalem and built the Temple and the altars and offered all the sacrifices ordained in the Torah"
From these verses:
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, God, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.? May it please You to make Zion prosper; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will want sacrifices offered in righteousness..."
Your Midrash Navigator...again
This midrash was written during the time when the Temple was already destroyed. Analyze these two positions.
What can they agree upon.
Where do they disagree?
Does one opinion appeal to you more than the other?
In many ways the Temple was a slaughterhouse for our sins. The drama of the sacrifice was to shatter our hearts so that we could open ourselves once more to the possibility of moral perfection. As frail human beings we are always doomed to fall short, the sacrifices were used to shatter our complacency and induce real change which, as Jews, we believe is possible.
So, too, the removal of Hametz on Pesach symbolizes a removal of swollen arrogance only to be replaced by the flat matza of redemption. This is our month, the month to be liberated from that which holds us back. This is the time to be liberated from the arrogance of false pride, to then take the broken pieces of our spirit and to ask to be made whole again.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, director, Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.