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To  sacrifice or not to sacrifice? 

03/30/2023 03:29:04 PM


Rabbi Kelly Levy

We’ve reaching the time of year I typically dread; we just started reading from Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus. Why the dread? Well, if you’ve ever read through this book, you know it’s full of bloody and gory details about sacrifice, graphic images associated with skin afflictions, commandments regarding the purity and impurity of people (specifically women), and more. It’s a complex, multi-layered, sometimes gross book of Torah.

Another reason Leviticus can be challenging to read each year, other than the obvious disgusting depictions of blood splattering on the altar, is because it seems so irrelevant to our contemporary world. And, as Jews who primarily follow rabbinic law and NOT the majority of commandments from Torah, it can feel unnatural and strange to read about rituals we will (hopefully) never bring back into practice. And yet, it’s also chock-full of fascinating concepts, ideas that make you think more deeply about what it means to be Jewish and human, and some pretty important commandments, like being kind to others and sharing with those in need.

Despite the fact we do not partake in offering sacrifices anymore, there is something beautiful about the ritual. Now, obviously, you will never find me at an altar holding a knife to a writhing, living animal. But, one important lesson I have learned about the practice of offering sacrifices is the love and care that went into this holy work.

Most of us are unable to conceptualize the actual process of offering a sacrifice. However, we can connect with the sheer amount of time, energy, and work that was required to prepare an animal for sacrifice. The Israelites did not just pick a cow up off the side of the road and bring it to the temple; they raised each animal from birth or hatch, lovingly tending to its every need, feeding it, assuring it was safe from all types of weather, and more.

Although they were an agricultural society, it is entirely possible that many of the people formed emotional attachments to these animals. And then, when they were ready, they brought the animal to the priests. They watched as a knife was drawn across their beloved animals’ throats. They expressed their love for God with these animals, all while grieving the loss of this precious life.

We understand the challenge of giving our time to important issues, to people we love, to the world as a whole. We know the difficulty of saying goodbye to someone precious. We know the beauty of putting in tremendous time and effort into a gift and seeing sincere gratification when they receive it. We may not offer animal sacrifices anymore, but we certainly give of ourselves time and again.

Leviticus may be difficult to read at times, and perhaps kind of gross, but it offers us beauty and pain far beyond the words. I invite all of us to read this book with new perspective, new interest, and new understanding. May this allow us to connect with our ancestors, with one another, and perhaps, even with God.

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784