Blood and sacrifice. Burnt offerings. Washing innards, Arranging body parts. Wringing pigeon necks, and tearing their wings off. Burning grain cakes. Flinging blood. Guilt offerings. Sin offerings. Offerings for accidental and unknowingly committed sins.
What is all this to me?
It's yucky, you say. It's gross. It's unpleasant.
Putting aside for the moment the thought that our ancestors were probably more comfortable with these acts than our modern sensibilities might allow us to be, the idea behind all these things can certainly have relevancy in our times.
It's a simple idea, really. It's about getting our hands dirty. It's about understanding that there is no way to distance ourselves from having to roll up our sleeves and really work at having a relationship with Gd.
Let's face it -- we have it easy. We communicate with Gd through the offerings of our lips, with song, prayer. For many of us, this seems to be enough. Gd demands much more of us than this. Gd demands the offerings of our hearts.
Gd has no needs of gifts, of offerings; no need of the same kind of bodily sustenance that we do. Gd has no need for the meat or blood of sacrifices, the fragrances and smells of offerings, the burnt cakes. All these things are for our sakes, and not Gd's sake.
(An interesting aside. The text tells us, in Lev. 3:16b, that "kol cheilev l'Adomai" "all fat is Gd's." This is an additional prohibition to the consuming of blood. The text goes on to say that it is en eternal law for us that we shall not eat any fat and any blood. (Lev. 3:17) We always seem to remember that blood part, but the fat part seems to have been overlooked. Remember all those lovely jars of schmaltz in mother's kitchen? Perhaps we'd do well to always remind ourselves that "kol cheilev l'Adomai." Of course, being on the Atkins diet might make this a little difficult for me! But I digress.)
A relationship with Gd is not an easy thing. It is certainly a holy thing, but not a relationship one can have without recognizing that things physical, and not just spiritual need be involved. (Now there's a great argument for observing the laws of kashrut.) Gd needs not just our hearts and our minds, but our bodies, too. And once our bodies are involved, we're in the realm of potentially "icky" things, of having to get our hands dirty.
All life is sacred. Animals are part of Gd's creation. Gd does not ask us lightly to offer animals as sacrifices. While PETA may think it's acceptable to compare the slaughter of millions of innocent Jews, gays, Romani and others to the routine slaughter of animals for food in their campaign for more humane treatment of animals, they miss the point of what we learn in parashat Vayikra.
Sacrificing animals teaches us not that we are superior to them. It does not teach us that it's OK to slaughter animals, or treat them inhumanely. The Torah is clear on the concept of tzar baalei chayim (not causing pain to animals) and our obligation to treat animals with respect, honor and care. I submit that one of the reasons for asking animal sacrifice of the people of Israel was to help them realize that all life, including the life of animals, is sacred. The animals used for sacrifice are carefully chosen, and must be unblemished. The "gift" of their lives is not wasted-what is not offered to Gd that is edible is consumed by the priests and others.
Rather than compare inhumane treatment of animals to the Shoah, perhaps PETA ought to use the example of the sacred nature of sacrificing an animal's life as taught by our holy Torah.
There is a reason our tradition has developed prayers like the morning's "asher yatzar" in which we openly discuss the inner workings of our bodies. A relationship with Gd demands we accept that we have our physical bodies for a reason, and must offer them in service to Gd as much as we offer our spiritual and emotional selves. We need to be thinking about Gd just as much when we're in the bathroom as when we are in the synagogue.
I'm not personally in favor of restoring animal sacrifice, even if, Gd willing, the Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem. I am, however, in favor of incorporating into our daily lives the message and the lessons to be learned from Gd's having asked us, at one time, to engage in ritual animal and plant material sacrifice.
After all, "kol cheilev l'Adomai" -- "all fat is Gd's." We've certainly plenty of fat on our bodies. And the word cheilev is used to refer to human body fat as well as animal fat. It also is used to refer to the "best part of" as in the "fat of the land." And it is also used in a negative way, to describe the "unreceptive heart" by comparing the heart to the unemotional mid-body fat that is near it.
Let's not let our fat (or our hearts) be of the unemotional kind. Let's give our "fat" to Gd - the best part of who we are -- emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.
© 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Previous Musings on the same parasha
Vayikra 5767-Stuff That's Bugging Me
Vayikra 5766 - Osymandias
Vayikra-Shabbat Zachor 5765-Chatati
Vayikra 5763 - Kol Cheilev
Vayikra 5759 & 5762-Salvation?
Vayikra 5760-Meaningful Gifts
Vayikra 5764 and 5761-Mambo #613: A Little Bit of Alef in My Torah...
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