For many years, I gave short shrift to Leviticusand Vayikra in particular. Either I have become enlightened or grown a little wiser, but I now 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 the Temple) are something some think “nice” to know about and only time will tell if they will ever “return”. At first blush, animal sacrifices seem abhorrent, on multiple levels. 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, as God is displeased with our conduct. The korban provide an objective means to repair this impaired relationship.
Remember, in the days of the Mishkan Jew had an agricultural society, and their animals were their major possessions. If 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 side that is how God gets “pleasure” from our sacrifices is truly difficult to grasp. In the months to come, I hope we can “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. Sixty-five (a gratifying and astonishing number) people responded to our recent services survey. Your ritual committee is internalizing those results 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 meaningful 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 in our community 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 I realized that one must “own” his or her sacrifice, and wild animals have no ownership. 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, then for the sins of his fellow priests and then for the sins of the entire community. Today, the reader prostrates himself when reciting the High Priest’s confession known as the Avodah.