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89http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2012/03/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---03_23_2012
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 03_23_2012
03/22/2012 11:39 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
March 23, 2012

 

                This week, we begin the book of Leviticus. It’s not a favorite book among Biblical readers. If it’s any indication, Hollywood hasn’t recreated any of its scenes quite like it has from Genesis and Exodus. Who can forget Charlton Heston as Moses? But, Leviticus, for all its talk about sacrifices and bodily effects, has a lot to tell us about what is and isn’t sacred. Granted, the biblical text focuses on ancient rituals, but if we lift them out of their ancient contexts and dust them off for relevant lessons, it’s possible that we can find remnants that remain timeless and timely for us.

                For example, animal sacrifices were a large issue for ancient Israelites. Their aim was to bring the best of their flock or herd as an offering to God. Each offering, specifically prescribed, communicated a message between God and an individual. There were offerings of thanks, forgiveness, atonement to cleanse one from sin, to name just a few. What the bible doesn’t tell us about them is expounded on in Talmud and subsequent texts. All this concern for animal sacrifice ended completely when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed for good by the Romans in 70 CE. Then prayer replaced sacrifice and the rabbinical age took hold. We would generally agree that the change was good for the future of Judaism, and surely for the future of flocks and herds.

                But, I’m afraid there is something that remains lost forever. In each person’s choice of animal for sacrifice was an intimate concern borne by the individual to bring something pleasing, even savory, to God. The physicality of it made it real without any room for imagination. Today, each person chooses prayer for offering, and at best, with a similar and intimate concern borne by him or her to bring something pleasing to God. The difference is that a prayer offering today lacks physicality. We’ve traded the burden of our hands that held the animal, for the duty of the heart that conveys prayer “up” and outward. We’re more advanced; therefore, we’re supposed to be able to make our experience before God more intellectual, emotional and spiritual. I guess so.

                I’m not suggesting that carrying an animal to the High Priest for sacrifice was more meaningful than bringing one’s prayer to God, personally. I wouldn’t have it any other way and neither would you. But, it concerns me that the duty to pray is not felt as heavily in our hearts and souls as it once did in our hands.

                Leviticus isn’t only for ancient times, it is meant for all times. Perhaps there is, indeed, heaviness in our hearts and souls. What if it’s the frustration in would-be worshipers who struggle to find meaning in prayer? Then we can take a cue from our ancient ancestors. They didn’t wait to bring an offering until they felt ready. They brought their offering according to God’s mitzvot, namely, festival holidays and other sacred occasions. Meaning was found through participation with others. They moved in common rhythm with the community. Now, that’s nothing new.

                Shabbat is our day for worship, though daily prayer is also welcome. The duty to thank God for our blessings still devolves upon us. We can do it through offerings of prayer in our house of worship. We can do it through Sabbath rituals at home. Light candles, sip the wine, and eat the challah. Express gratitude to your family for the blessings they are to you. Whatever you bring and wherever you bring it, make it your best offering. Make it a reflection of the duty of your heart. In English or Hebrew, through song, poetry or prose, there is nothing better than what you’re feeling in your heart and wish to share with God, alone. I join you in that effort. I pray, personally, too. I also truly enjoy our weekly Sabbath services where song, poetry, prose and community make Friday night and Saturday morning more than days of the week, they are our Shabbat.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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