Vayikra: Bring What You Have

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayikra

It’s springtime, so it’s time to study everybody’s favorite Jewish
subject,the ancient sacrifices!

This week’s Torah portion is the first of the book of Vayikra, or
“Leviticus,” so named because of its central topic, which is the
priestly rituals of the Mishkan, or portable Sanctuary. (Leviticus=
tribe of Levi, which was the tribe from which the priests came and
which served the nation in religious duties.) It’s often pretty hard
not to go into a state of mind-numbing, eyes-glazed-over,
wake-me-up-when-it’s-over boredom when reading about the various kinds
of offerings and rituals, almost none of which we do anymore, but if
you read closely, you’ll see that the entire book of Vayikra is really
about very contemporary topics, like how we make sure everybody is
included in the spiritual community and how we bring people closer to
the experience of the Divine.

For example, let’s look at Chapter 5, verse 11, which comes in the
context of discussing the offerings which must be brought as atonement
for certain unintentional “sins,” defined here not as evil, but in the
more typical understanding of “falling short of the mark.” In other
words- problems resulting from ordinary human imperfections. So here’s
verse 11:

“If his means are not sufficient for the acquisition of two
turtledoves or two young pigeons, he shall bring as his offering,
—[he] who has sinned,— one tenth of an epha of fine flour as a
sin-offering. He shall not put oil upon it, nor shall he place
frankincense upon it, for it is a sin-offering.”

Now, we’re learning something interesting: the Torah truly wants every
Israelite, regardless of means, to feel comfortable bringing
themselves into the Mishkan, the sacred center of the community, in
order to be reconciled and set right before God and the people. Not
only that, but as I read it, the presumption of the verse is that
everybody should be able to come up with a small bag of flour, at
least- and it doesn’t have to be fancy with oil and perfume. If all
you have is a bag of regular Martha White flour, that’s fine. Nobody
is excluded from the possibility of reconciliation and return, but
there is a minimum level of effort expected as well.

So what can we learn? The lesson seems clear: there is nobody who
cannot bring some offering of heart or mind or body or soul into their
religious community, to have that gift lifted up and affirmed. Nobody
must ever feel excluded because of finances or self-consciousness! The
Divine Presence is the inheritance of every person, and thus our
synagogues and institutions must be open to everybody who seeks to
find their place within them. We need to affirm what people <can> do,
not criticize what they don’t (yet) do. If all you have is a handful
of flour, you can still do a tremendous mitzvah. On the other hand,
you do have to bring it forward; this is the opportunity, and this is
the obligation.

Shabbat Shalom,


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