19/20 Mar: Vayikra : Shabbat comes in 5:57 pm, ends 7:00 pm
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. 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.
We have also been living in an age of sacrifice. We have each been 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 these choices as a larger whole, because we believe that we owe one another this sacrifice.