“Tis the Gift to Be Simple”

“Tis the Gift to Be Simple”

Mar 11, 2022 By Gordon Tucker | Commentary | Vayikra | Shabbat Zakhor

Parashat Vayikra inaugurates the book of Leviticus, the center(piece) of the Torah. Following immediately on the completion of the meticulously constructed Tabernacle (Mishkan) and its sumptuous appurtenances, it launches a set of instructions for how that sacred space was to function, and under whose authority. No wonder it was called in Rabbinic times “Torat Kohanim”—“the priests’ manual.” This week thus presents an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between that Mishkan—and all its successor institutions in Jewish life—and spiritual quests.

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Standing at the Gates

Standing at the Gates

Mar 19, 2021 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Vayikra

In Kafka’s cryptic parable “Before the Law,” a man stands before a gate seeking entry into the Law. The gate is open, but at its side is a gatekeeper who refuses his request to enter. The man uses every stratagem that he can think of to gain the gatekeeper’s permission, but every attempt fails. This stalemate continues until the moment of death arrives. 

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A Covenant of Salt

A Covenant of Salt

Mar 27, 2020 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Vayikra

Covenant is a central concept in Judaism. The Torah and later tradition make clear that the people Israel have a special relationship with God, and Jews have acquired the epithet “the chosen people” (though Jewish particularism need not preclude other peoples having their own unique relationships with God). Rabbi David Hartman, z”l, titled his exposition of Jewish theology A Living Covenant. Rabbi David Wolpe, in a speech at JTS, proposed highlighting the mainstream ideological approach of Conservative Judaism by rebranding it as “Covenantal Judaism.”

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Sacrificing Identities

Sacrificing Identities

Mar 15, 2019 By | Commentary | Vayikra

The early rabbinic midrash on the Book of Leviticus (Sifra) begins its interpretation of our parashah by asking the critical question: Who is a Jew? The Rabbis seek to clearly define who can participate in Temple worship and who cannot because the sacrifices are a key piece of the covenantal relationship with God. That means that participation in the sacrificial cult is emblematic of full Jewish citizenship and demarcates the borderlines between Jews and others.

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Leviticus on Love

Leviticus on Love

Mar 16, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Vayikra

I was on a small cruise ship with my family in Alaska this summer, when a couple whom I had come to like and admire asked me with great respect a question that Jews have been been hearing from Christians for many centuries, one that had been put to me more than once by students at Stanford: “How can Jews worship the God of the Old Testament, so full of harsh judgment and wrath, and so unlike the God of the New Testament, who calls to human beings in love?”

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The Freshest Grain

The Freshest Grain

Mar 31, 2017 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Vayikra | Shavuot

In a long narrative dedicated to sacrifices we find one hidden command to offer only the freshest and best grains, mixed with oils and scents. Through a multi sensory description the reader can sense the heavy kernels of grains, smell the scents, and vicariously participate in the powerful event of giving thanks to God with the offering of the first fruit.

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The Rituals that Make a Nation

The Rituals that Make a Nation

Mar 31, 2017 By Hillel Gruenberg | Commentary | Vayikra

I must confess that as someone who has spent most of my adult life studying and teaching modern history, Vayikra—both the parashah and the sefer—is not my favorite portion of the Torah or the Tanakh. We lovers of narrative are in for something of a letdown as we enter a biblical book that, aside from a few brief interludes, seems to be a long list of injunctions relating to priestly service and ritual purity. Indeed, there will be no more sea-splitting or plague-wreaking; the tablets have been given; the golden calf has been wrought and unwrought; and the Mishkan has been planned, plotted, and built. The fun is over, and now it’s time to talk about the particulars of sacrifice, ceremony, and the sacred.

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Crackers for God

Crackers for God

Mar 16, 2015 By William Friedman | Commentary | Vayikra | Pesah | Shabbat Hahodesh

What kind of gift would you give a king? In the interests of both respect and self-preservation, probably the nicest thing you could afford! And if you’d give this to a human king, how much more would you give to the King of Kings of Kings? And yet the Torah prescribes that any grain offered in the Temple cannot contain either yeast or honey. That’s right: the only appropriate grain offering for God is matzah—the tasteless cracker that is about to become the source of so much complaining on Passover! Why would the Torah tell us to do such a thing?

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Vayikra—Lean Out

Vayikra—Lean Out

Feb 24, 2014 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Vayikra

This week we begin reading the middle book of the Five Books of Moses, Leviticus. Its position in the Torah scroll is not just coincidental; the laws of Leviticus are central to the earliest rabbis’ understanding of Judaism.

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Animal Sacrifice on an iPad: Finding Meaning in Va-yikra

Animal Sacrifice on an iPad: Finding Meaning in Va-yikra

Mar 13, 2013 By Charlie Schwartz | Commentary | Vayikra

I would like to offer three of the many approaches to Va-yikra that might help infuse our reading of the book with meaning beyond flying goats and calves.

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Bridging the Particular and the Universal

Bridging the Particular and the Universal

Mar 13, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayikra

With the opening of the book of Leviticus and its keen focus on sacrifices this coming Shabbat, many laypeople and clergy alike begin an exegetical struggle for connection and relevance.

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The Ancestral Roots of our Morals

The Ancestral Roots of our Morals

May 21, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Vayikra

How wonderful to derive a great lesson from such a simple turn of phrase.

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Finding Inspiration in Bullocks and Bloodstains

Finding Inspiration in Bullocks and Bloodstains

Mar 12, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Vayikra

Reading Leviticus, it is clear that the reality of the people who generated the text is radically different from our own. It is a book that reads as ancient, obsolete, and irrelevant. In fact, one recent popular edition of the Bible left it out altogether. So what are we, regular readers of the Torah text and seekers of higher meaning gleaned from it, to do with the next three months of Levitical parashiyot?

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Our Individual Responsibility to the Community

Our Individual Responsibility to the Community

Mar 20, 2010 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayikra

Four months ago, an Orthodox rabbi here in Israel made headlines by urging his yeshiva students to resist any orders to evacuate settlements in the West Bank. In his book entitled Revivim, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed writes, “a simple halakhah is that it is forbidden for any person, whether a soldier or an officer, to participate in the strictly forbidden act of expelling Jews from their homes and handing over any portion of the Land of Israel to enemies . . . Those who violate this violate several commandments of Torah” (Ha’aretz, November 18, 2009). Rabbi Melamed’s directives rightfully caused a stir in all segments of Israeli society.

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Sin, Ritual Pollution, and Divine Alienation

Sin, Ritual Pollution, and Divine Alienation

Mar 28, 2009 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Vayikra

Why begin a young child’s Torah education with something as remote from his or her own life experience as sacrifices and Temple pageantry? Leviticus is difficult for adults to find relevant, let alone children. Give young students the drama of the Exodus and the moment of the Covenant at Sinai. Take children through the family narratives of Genesis that might captivate their imagination as they navigate their own familial dynamics as sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. Teach them the Book of Deuteronomy, which amounts to a review of the entire Torah. But to what ends might we throw them into a world of entrails and gore, the burning of frankincense, the sprinkling of blood, and the choreographies involved with the various sacrificial offerings?

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Between Prophets and Priests

Between Prophets and Priests

Mar 15, 2008 By Edward Feld | Commentary | Vayikra

The relation with God is fraught with uncertainty and doubt.

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Calling Out

Calling Out

Mar 24, 2007 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayikra

This week represents new beginnings in the Jewish calendar. We welcomed the month of Nisan in which we celebrate our birth as a people and a nation; and this week we begin a new book of Torah, Leviticus, or in Hebrew, Va–yikra.. More than the significance of this liminal moment is the extent to which the notion of relationship locates itself at the core of both of these events. In so many ways, Nisan celebrates the relationship of God and Israel — God’s act of covenantal fulfillment and hesed in taking the Israelites out of the land of Egypt. And similarly, the Book of Leviticus opens with a curious commentary on relationships — specifically, the relationship between God and Moses.

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Sacrifice in Middle Age

Sacrifice in Middle Age

Mar 24, 2007 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Vayikra

It took middle age to bring me to appreciation of Leviticus — that, and the work of biblical scholars like Jacob Milgrom and anthropologists like Mary Douglas. Now I approach the book each year truly grateful that it exists to confront me again with aspects of life and death I might otherwise have missed or avoided.

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A House of Prayer for All Peoples

A House of Prayer for All Peoples

Apr 1, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayikra | Pesah

Creative tension is ever present in the poles found within Judaism. We are drawn to the balance between keva and kavannah, that which is fixed and that which is spontaneous; Hassidim fervently debate the Mitnagdim over the line between spirituality and intellectualism; and we are constantly in search of the golden mean between halakhah (law) and aggadah (lore). Another pair of opposites embedded within Judaism is the constant tension between particularity and universality. To what extent should a Jew be zealous in the particular observance of Jewish identity? Or is Torah better understood as a Jewish lens into universal experience?

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Leadership in Revelation

Leadership in Revelation

Mar 19, 2005 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayikra

Modernity erupted in Jewish history in 1782 in the garb of midrash.

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