2005If the book of Shemot (Exodus) describes the melding, collective identity and destiny of the Jewish people, Vayikra (Leviticus) discusses how this community is to live its collective life and strive to higher levels of sanctification. The book deals with sacrifices, the rituals of sacrifices, and the role of kohanim, or priests.
Sanctification and Sacrifice
The opening chapter of Vayikra deals with the intricacies and classification of sacrifices to be brought by the children of Israel. Unlike many other sections of the Torah, it is hard to find a lot of philosophical or metaphysical concepts in this section. Just details, i.e., this is brought for such and such type of sacrifice, and how it is done.
How do we reconcile the loftiness of the ideas set forth in this book with the dullness of its introduction? Just what role did sacrifices play in the lives of the children of Israel?
As you can imagine, the children of Israel were more connected to the necessities of life than we are today. They grew the food they needed and raised the livestock they ate. The sacrifices they offered came from this food and livestock - the very sustenance they needed to live. These sacrifices had real meaning to Jews then, and what sacrifices were offered for which cause had real significance and value in their day-to-day lives. Through burnt offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings, actions were imbued with real meaning and import.
It is ironic that what seems dull, distant and anachronistic to us today was very real, immediate and relevant then. Sacrifices spoke to people in a way they could understand, and by utilizing that which was ordinary but essential to everyday life, sacrifices were able to transform that everyday life and imbue it with meaning and sanctity.
It is an interesting question to think about what speaks to us and can sanctify our lives in the same way today.
Prepared by Keith Krivitzky, associate director of development
Additional commentaries and text studies on Parshat Vayikra at MyJewishLearning.com.