For many years, I gave short shrift to Leviticus and parasha Vayikra in particular. Either I have become enlightened or grown a little wiser, but I finally appreciate the sacrificial concept. Sacrifices are largely the initiative of an individual's response to his or her personal life narratives. So here we go on a topic or issue you may become enthralled with, or you may say, "It has no application to me" and gloss over it.
The sacrificial services taking place in the Mishkan (and later in the Temple) are something some think "nice" to know about, and only time will tell if the sacrifices will ever "return." At first blush, animal sacrifices seem abhorrent. Korban is the Hebrew word for sacrifice, which comes from the word korov, to come close. Simply stated, a korban is the means by which we draw close to God. When we sin, we distance ourselves, and God is displeased with our conduct. The korban provides an objective means to repair this impaired relationship.
It must be realized that in the days of the Mishkan the Jewish people comprised an agrarian society; their animals were their major possessions. If today you had to give up your car, it would be a-sacrifice. One can look at it two ways: as punishment or to foster and nourish a feeling of love. The converse idea that this is how God gets "pleasure" from our sacrifices is truly difficult to grasp. In the months to come, I hope we can begin to "get our arms around that complex issue."
Prayer has taken the place of sacrifices and actually parallels the sacrificial practices (i.e. Musaf on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh). We are constantly trying to create formal structures of worship. Our ritual committee is continuously attempting to make our worship meaningful to the entire community. There will be no burning of animals [i] or grains, but nonetheless we seek to create services that are uplifting and relevant to our community within the rubric of the Conservative Movement.
It often seems that we are spiritual emcees-orchestrating ritual gestures that are mere formalities. This passage from the most formal and foreboding part of our tradition demonstrates that even within the ritual realm, the purpose is always deeply spiritual-to create an internal transition from alienation to engagement. This is the great Avodah, service,[ii] for us-to create opportunities for individuals to overcome divisions and feel whole-with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with God.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham
[i] As I was preparing this, someone posed the question to me, "Could wild animals be used for sacrifice?" It took me a moment to cogitate, and then I realized that one must "own" his or her sacrifice, and people have no ownership relationship with wild animals. The answer is, "No." You must surrender something!
[ii] The heart of the Yom Kippur Temple service was the confession recited by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies, first for his own sins, secondly for the sins of his fellow priests and then for the sins of the entire community. Today, theBaal T'fillah,(leader), prostrates himself when reciting the High Priest's confession known as the Avodah.