Vayikra: No Barrier to Love

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayikra

It’s a nice spring day, it’s a few weeks before Pesach, and we’re turning to the
book of Vayikra, A.K.A. Leviticus, for our cycle of Torah readings. Vayikra is
called Leviticus, of course, because the tribe of Levi is the tribe designated
for religious service in the Mishkan, or Sanctuary, the ritual details of which
take up much of this book of the Torah.

The haftarah for the opening portion of Vayikra is from Yeshayahu [Isaiah}- or,
more accurately, “Second Isaiah,” from the latter half of the book of the same
name. These prophecies were spoken to the exile community in Babylon, in the
reign of Cyrus, who eventually allowed the exiles to return. Yeshayahu
encouraged the people to believe that God would redeem them and “take them back”
with a restored national and spiritual life in the land of Israel.

The relationship to the Torah portion has to do with the image of sacrifices and
offerings; the prophet says that even though the people haven’t been bringing
the offerings (they could not do so in exile, without a central Temple), God
would nevertheless renew the relationship spiritually:

” Even as I pour water on thirsty soil,
And rain upon dry ground,
So will I pour My spirit on your offspring,
My blessing upon your posterity.” (Yesh. 44:3)

The text goes on to decry the foolishness of idolatry and the love of God for
Israel, such that no matter what their sins in the past, they would be forgiven
and the covenant would be renewed:

“I wipe away your sins like a cloud,
Your transgressions like mist —
Come back to Me, for I redeem you ! ” (44:22)

In Biblical Israel, the offerings in the central Temple were the way our
ancestors drew close to God; without such a physical ritual, we turn instead to
a relationship grounded in love and forgiveness. Please note: the text is fully
aware that terrible things happen in history, and its explanation that the
tragedy of exile is due to the sins of the people is not one that I find
satisfactory.

However, although Yeshayahu spoke at a particular moment in time, the problem of
exile- that is, estrangement or alienation from our truest spiritual center- is
a timeless one. Notice in verse 22, above, how sin and transgression- that is,
the thing that keep us far from a sense of alignment with the Sacred – are
compared to mist and cloud. That is, they are temporary, illusory things- a
cloud may block the light, obscuring vision, but it blocks no effort to move
through it.

Whatever is keeping us from coming home- to spiritual community, to Torah, to
covenant relationships in our lives, to our own souls- is no more a barrier than
a mist or cloud. Yeshayahu taught: the love at the center of the cosmos- that we
call God- is real and permanent and enduring; what keeps us from that love is
temporal, ethereal, cleared from view with only a simple desire to draw close.
That knowledge is what gave our ancestors hope, as it does to this day.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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