Harkening back to my earlier days and my truly "random" musings, today's musing is just that. Random. I call it "stuff that's bugging me about our parasha," which is Vayikra - the start of the priestly instruction manual that somehow found its way into the Torah. And so here we go. Stuff that's bugging me:
Why must an animal die for the sins of a human being? Yes, if we place these rituals within their own context, we can understand why humans though G"d would want animal sacrifices, and we can understand how the sacrifice of an animal was a meaningful act for our ancestors.
I'm such a hypocrite. I eat meat and poultry and fish. The vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is not for me. If I truly think about it, I give but a fleeting thought to the animal deaths that are required to satisfy my desire for meat and poultry and fish meals. Yet I care for my pets as if they were family members. And just the other day, I ordered some "eco-suede" kippot made from recycled cardboard to replace some of the suede kippot that I have been wearing.
Clearly, Torah teaches us to have proper respect for all life, including animals. We are asked to treat them respectfully, and when we slaughter them, to do so a manner that was believed to be quick and minimize the animal's pain. We are not to abuse or mistreat our animals, and even our work animals get off for Shabbat. Still, we eat them, as did our ancestors. And they also sacrificed them to G"d.
In our parasha, we read of the mincha sacrifice, the meal offerings - bread, griddle cakes, pancakes, matzah. Couldn't those have been enough? Yet in this odd and ironic twist, while most of the animal sacrifices (at least the sin offerings and offerings for inadvertent transgressions) were wholly consigned to the altar, often only a portion of the mincha offerings were sacrificed and the rest eaten. (Yes, this is also true of animal sacrifices, but to a somewhat lesser degree in this particular parasha and the particular types of sacrifices it mentions.)
Well, it makes some sense. G"d provided us with the animals to eat, yet the curse of Cain is upon us and we must work hard to produce crops from the soil. Yet wouldn't G"d prefer the toil of our own efforts be sacrificed rather than G"d's animal creations? I guess our ancestors didn't think that was the case. Our work is tainted from the get go. Not so the animals. And those we sacrifice must be from the choicest of our flocks and herds.
And something else that's bugging me. The children of Israel are a stubborn lot. It seems transgression (both advertant and inadvertent) is more norm than exception. That means that either a whole lot of animals got sacrificed-did they really have that many to spare?-or most people just weren't honest in admitting when they had committed and sin which required an atonement in the form of an animal or pancake sacrifice. Neither of those is a particularly heartening reality.
Perhaps, early on, G"d, in G"d's innocence, didn't realize just how troublesome this free will thing was, and how prone it made us to transgress. Yet, by the time of Sinai, it had surely become apparent to G"d that we were gonna screw up a lot. So why insist on animal sacrifices?
In fact, why this whole system of atonement at all? G"d could have kept it simple. You sin, you die. You sin inadvertently, maybe you get a second chance, but then you die if you do it again. But noooooooo. We're stuck with this system of ritual sacrifice to atone. The Christians solved the problem by envisioning the ultimate sacrifice, permanently absolving us of our wrongs. We Jews have attacked the problem somewhat with Yom Kippur. Yet the problem remains-we screw up a lot when it comes to G"d's laws. Sometimes without realizing it, but most of the time, quite brazenly open about it.
And you know what? This substitution of the offerings of our hearts and our lips-I don't think it really cuts the mustard. Animal and bread sacrifice is so much more visceral (and smelly-thank goodness for Frankincense and other aromatics.) I'm certainly not in favor of returning to animal sacrifice, but I'm not so sure that what we've substituted is truly as meaningful and efficacious, with all due respect to the prophets.
I'm not sure what a meaningful sacrifice would be anymore. Words are cheap. Actions speak louder than words, and I suppose I can accept the idea that not doing something sinful the next time the situation arises is a meaningful act. But is it a sacrifice? Are words of prayer, heartfelt or not, a sacrifice? (Well, the way some people feel toward prayer these days, and in particular toward learning the Hebrew to pray without the influence of the subtle interpretations that result from translation, some might consider it a sacrifice. No comment.)
Loose ends. I've left a lot. Some of these meanderings start nowhere and end up nowhere, or are off in Yemensville. Why should what I write be any different than what we often encounter in our sacred texts? You don't like loose ends, you fritter away your Shabbat trying to make sense of it all. Me-I think I'll try and spend Shabbat not thinking about things, and giving not just my body, but my brain, a rest. Yeah, right. As if that's gonna happen...
© 2007 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha
HaHodesh 5766 - So How Did Joseph Get Away With it?
Pekude 5765-Redux 5760-Pronouns
Vayakhel 5765-The Wisdom of the Heart
Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V'hoteir
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761 (Revised from 5758)-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel/Pekude 5758-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
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