28 March 2017
This week’s parasha is the first portion of the Book of Leviticus. Vayikra – “and God called” – appears somewhat archaic with its focus on the gory details of different types of animal sacrifice. But upon deeper reading, we glean several important lessons for modern-day behavior.
For example, while we translate the Hebrew word korban as “sacrifice,” a more accurate translation is “drawing near” or “coming close [to God].” The highly structured ritual of offering an animal sacrifice provided a construct by which our ancestors could approach their Creator. Vayikra teaches us that if one could not afford to sacrifice a cattle, other less expensive animals could serve as substitutes. Regardless of their standing in life, our ancestors had equal access and opportunity for a special relationship with God. And a theme from last week’s parasha is repeated: the higher one’s rank in the community, the more that was expected. Long before we learn of the sacrificial ritual for the average Israelite, we learn what the priests, the elders and the chieftains had to do to atone for their sins – and that they had to do so promptly and publicly.
Our modern-day Yom Kippur service has symbolically replaced the sacrifice ritual, and offers both public and private opportunities for repentance. Today, and every day, we have a chance to develop a closer relationship with each other – and with God – through our deeds, our words and by honestly accepting responsibility for our actions.