Parshah Vayikra

The Torah portion this week, Vayirka, focuses very strongly on the sacrificial laws in the Mishkan. We learn a lot of, to my modern ears and eyes, grisly details about exactly what kind of animals are to be brought, and how the priests are to slaughter them and where to spread the blood on the altar. Very interesting, and also pretty strange!

In a historical aspect, it is interesting to learn exactly how our ancestors performed their rites.

The big question here is what can we learn from this portion in the 21st century, where we don’t have a temple anymore, when we don’t offer animal sacrifices. What can we learn from this portion?

Quite a few things!

Through the development of rabbinic Judaism, after the destruction of the second Temple, our prayers, the three daily services, take the place of the sacrifices. So even though we don’t offer animals and vegetables, physical sacrifices anymore, we still sacrifice something that is very precious to us: our time.

We live in an age where our time is our livelihood. We don’t wait for our animals and fields to grow, we spend our time to earn our livelihood. So now that we have moved beyond the Temple (and, as I like to think of it, one step close to the Messianic Age), we offer what is most precious to us now. Back then, it was our livestock and the fruit of our fields.

These days, the fruits of our lives are made from our time. So we sacrifice, we give of what is most important, to G-d by taking the time to see the world from a point of view that removes us from the center. We step back, as Reb Zalman says, “take a Shabbat in time”, and give up our precious time to recognize that we are not the center of the universe. Even if we don’t observe the traditional three daily prayers, take a moment to create a contact, create a connection to the one-ness, the Echad that permeates the universe.

Even more than this we learn in this portion that G-d doesn’t want only one thing, Hashem wants whatever we can bring. In this portion we are told:
“If you bring a sacrifice of a cattle, bring an unblemished male, if you bring a sacrifice of a goat, bring an unblemished goat, if you bring a bird, bring a dove, if you bring meal, bring good meal, if you bring bread, bring this kind of bread…” and on and on. 

What we are seeing here is G-d saying, “in My eyes, all of these sacrifices are equal”. What’s not important about giving is what you give. You can give a bull or a piece of bread! What is important is that you give, and give of the best you’ve got, whether it is time or belongings. So this Shabbat I encourage you to give of your first fruits, and help establish a world where we are all encouraged to give of our strengths to each other.

Shabbat Shalom!

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