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97http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2012/05/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---05_18_2012
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 05_18_2012
05/17/2012 10:28 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
May 18, 2012

 

The final chapters of Leviticus are filled with high expectations for holy acts and holy rewards. It also explains the consequences for not meeting these high expectations. Sounds like a grand way to finish the priestly book. That’s the point of the last verse in Leviticus, “These are the commandments that the Lord gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai.” The redactor’s hand is evident in this final verse. The book of Leviticus, filled with the roles of the priests, the functions of the sacrificial offerings, and the boundaries between blessings and curses, can only be regarded as the holiest of writings if it is inextricably bound to revelation on Mount Sinai. It needed a perfect ending and it didn’t disappoint.

                If you asked yourself, “But, I thought the whole Torah was given at Sinai?” You wouldn’t be wrong; but, you would be identifying with only one way Jewish scholars have understood the origins and the development of Torah. If you asked yourself, “Is Torah inspired by God and written by man?” you wouldn’t be wrong, either; because, this is the Reform Jewish understanding of a complex text that has been shown over decades of scholarly work to be the achievement of more than one redactor/editor. The closing verse of Leviticus is a perfect example. After the long list of do’s and don’ts, the clean and clear verse pins the commandments to Sinai forever, thus giving it, in perpetuity, extraordinary force over a people who sought God’s blessings.

                Whether or not you hold to one theory or the other doesn’t change the way we view the Torah texts as the source of our moral, ethical, and religious life. Our norms, values and duties flow from the inheritance of heritage, culture, language, perspective, outlook, covenant, etc., that is the sum of all Torah, including much later interpretations and commentaries.

                Therefore, we learn Torah stories and their rabbinic interpretations called Midrash for many reasons. Historically, we like to know from whence we came. The stories of Abraham, the first Jew, and the story of Moses, for obvious reasons, pin our people’s beginnings to a time, a place, and gives it a reason for being. The people that assembled at Sinai to seal a covenant with God became a nation that promised to give to their children what they claimed for themselves on that day. Our heritage comes down to us from our parents and grandparents, but it began with our ancestors whose story is told in Exodus. Our Hebrew language, too, is a Jewish value not because it’s old, but because it transcends geography and time by linking us to Torah and to all Jews everywhere. Our outlook and world view is inseparable from Torah and its commentaries. What other people has risen and fallen and risen again? What other people has survived thousands of years, and though smaller in numbers in proportion to other peoples, it has thus far not been our Achilles heel, so to speak. We are partners living in covenant with God; we are not waiting for God to work through us. It is a perspective unique to Judaism and appeals to the modern person who feels bound to a covenant filled with an ethical and religious inventory and autonomous to choose how to satisfy the demands of that covenant.

                Congregation Beth Israel honors the covenant and all its demands; it also values the individual modern Jew’s need to find his or her place within the covenant God makes uniquely with him or her. We are a learning, worshiping, and communal center where the weight of our ancestors promise is carried by all of us according to our respective strengths and contributions to sustain and build Jewish life, today and tomorrow.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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