27/28 Mar: Vayikra :Shabbat comes in 6:11 pm, ends 7:14pm
The Sacrifice of Freedom – Parashat Vayikra
We are about to enter Z’man Ḥeiruteinu – the Season of our Freedom. During Passover, we will reflect deeply on the concept of liberation – and this year, we will likely be doing so from within homes that we are not permitted to leave.
This week’s Torah portion is the beginning of the Book of Vayikra (‘And He Called’), otherwise known as Leviticus. Our parashah is filled with descriptions of sacrifices to be given to God in the tabernacle, and later in the Holy Temple. It is a system that no longer occurs on a physical basis, as we no longer have a Temple, and has been largely replaced with prayer and other symbolic substitutions.
The Israelites are liberated from slavery in Egypt, but they choose to submit to a different power: the power of God. Freedom does not mean complete self-rule. The Israelites enter into a covenant with a set of obligations; furthermore, the word for worship, avodah, is from the same root as the word ‘slave’ (eved). We have left the service of Pharaoh and entered into the service of God, which is best demonstrated by the sacrifices that God demands of us.
It turns out that being free does not mean being self-governed, or not owing anyone anything – at least, it doesn’t mean that in the Jewish understanding. The Season of our Freedom means that we are able to submit ourselves to the Highest Power, without any Pharaohs standing in our way. And we submit ourselves to God through sacrifices – through giving up something that is precious to us. In the era of the Temple, these sacrifices were (for the most part) what sustained the Tribe of Levi. We were caught up in a system in which we submitted to God and looked after one another, all in one action of sacrifice.
I write this to you from the end of an isolation period which will blend seamlessly into a period of lockdown. We are also living in an age of sacrifice. We are each being called upon to sacrifice our time with those we love, and even human contact – all because we believe in looking after one another. We are still free. We are not being oppressed by a Pharaoh. Instead, we are making this choice as a larger whole, because we believe that we owe one another this sacrifice.
I wish you all well through this trying time.
Shabbat shalom Rabbi Natasha
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman