D’var Torah: Vayikra

15 Mar

Torah (Photo credit: quinet)

With a newly completed משכן (Tabernacle), Moses and Bnei Yisrael must undertake the demanding task of regular offerings to God. The Parasha itself, as well as the Book of Vayikra in general serve as handbook for the priests and their duties. It is then understandable why the third book of the Torah is known as ספר כהנים (Book of Priests). As we now find ourselves in the midst of the interlude between narrative sections of the Torah, first the building of the Tabernacle and now the detailing of the service to be done therein, a reasonable question becomes, what exactly is the purpose of centralizing the sacrificial rite?

Fortunately both the Talmud and later commentators also sought an answer to this question. The fourteen chapters of Mishnah zevachim contain the specific details of each offering, its requirements and disqualifications. However, upon review of these chapters we are left only with a more complete picture of the sacrificial system, but still without a defined reason. The Gemara in Zevachim 112b makes an attempt to answer, suggesting that every alternative site for sacrificial worship was forbidden once there was an established central location as a means to prevent idol worship and. But if that is the case, then how can our post-Modern minds not ask the next obvious question, what about pluralism? I am not going to attempt to delve into that broader issue at this juncture, except to say that Shadal, the 19th Century Italian commentator, does provide one possible answer. He writes that national unity is the ostensible goal of the sacrificial centralization. Although sometimes difficult to imagine, the daily rite, as well as the thrie yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem must have been a sight to behold as the entire nation journeyed en masse to the Temple.

Since the destruction of the Temple, we are no longer able to fulfill this particular aspect of the Torah replete with the necessary specifications and resulting national solidarity. Instead, it must then become incumbent upon all of us to seek other paths through which we can achieve Jewish unity.

Shabbat shalom.

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