5 Nissan 5773 / March 15-16, 2013
This week, we begin the Book of Leviticus, with the portion of Vayikra. Leviticus contains what we refer to today as the Priestly Code – effectively, most of the initial rules and regulations pertaining to how our ancient priests were to conduct themselves and perform their service. In many ways, our ancient priests were grill masters, as a big part of their job consisted of offering sacrifices up to God. In this week’s portion, we learn about the various types offerings that were made, such as cattle offerings, flour offerings, well-being offerings, and sin offerings. We also learn that salt was offered with each of the offerings (one of the symbolic reasons we put salt on Challah on Friday night before eating it!).
Needless to say, the notion of animal sacrifices as a mechanism for connecting with God seems a bit out of date when judged by today’s societal standards. I can’t really think of a good public place to offer up sacrifices off the top of my head without feeling a bit self-conscious… Furthermore, the structure was obviously incredibly hierarchical -- we needed the priests to do things for us! This hierarchical structure continued on in a new form after the ancient Temple was destroyed, with the Rabbis making legal determinations for the people, and later in synagogues, with Cantors serving as prayer conduits for a largely uneducated populace.
In many ways, times have changed (which I would argue is for the better). The power to connect, more than ever before, rests with the people. One can go and get a PhD in Talmud and be more textually learned than one’s rabbi. One doesn’t need a cantor in order to connect with the Divine, as due to our shifting to a prayer-based faith, we each have the opportunity to pray whenever we want, in our own words, creating connections as often as we’d like.
The challenge, however, is that while having the power is significant and valuable, it admittedly takes more effort and willpower to exercise it than to simply allow others to serve as conduits on our behalves. So my challenge to you this week is to take advantage of the power we’ve been granted. Commit to learning something new, to expressing gratitude in whatever form speaks to you best, and to acknowledging that while it may have been awesome to have ancient Bar-B-Qs on a daily basis hosted by the priests, today we each have the ability to be our own grill masters, and should seize the opportunity.