Day 27--Holiness, Abundance and Offering--"Direct Communion" Lev 1 - 4
January 27, 2021, 6:21 AM

Day 27 Leviticus 1:1 – 4: 35 The Beginning of Holiness

The tabernacle is built and ready for the people to enter, but they do not yet have the instructions they need to know what they are to do, what the role of the priests will be, and how worship and sacrifice are to be done. So they cannot yet enter—even Moses cannot enter the new tabernacle!

God begins his long conversation with Moses to reveal the central importance of the tabernacle—holiness and sacrifice. In the next few days, we will read about purity, cleanliness and the ordination of the priests, but first God needs to guide his people in the ways he wants them to go, in the ways of holiness.

We have become people who no longer recognize holiness, and I don’t mean that we are purposely disrespectful (although sometimes we are!), or maybe we do not recognize God’s place in the abundance that we have. To be honest, it is hard to understand abundance if we have not had the opposite in our lives—a life without enough. The people of Israel came out of Egypt with only those things they could carry, and the herds they could corral. They no longer had permanent homes and they were entirely dependent on God. And of course—He appeared to them! He spoke to Moses! He was the cloud that traveled in front of them! Wasn’t it easier when that was the case?

When God cracked open the heavens, when Jesus came to live with us, and to be with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit, we were given gifts of incredible value, beyond our understanding—the God of Israel now lives within his people—ALL his people, not just the chosen ones of Israel. Jesus has sacrificed “once and for all” so that we no longer have to bring our own blood sacrifices to God. We carry holiness. We can offer sacrifice and praise to God every day for what we have been given.

So I want to go over one of the offerings and include some writing by Rabbi Andrea Goldstein who helps us contemporize our understanding of the “Offering of Well-Being” or the Offering of Peace. (Leviticus 3)

From Rabbi Goldstein:

Each year, when working with bat and bar mitzvah students whose portions come from the Book of Leviticus, I usually have at least one conversation that goes something like this:

Student: “If we don’t make sacrifices any more then why do we still read these Torah portions?”

Me: “Because they are a part of Torah, the most sacred possession of the Jewish people.”

Student: “But if the practices don’t relate to our lives anymore, if we no longer believe that killing animals is a good way to get close to God, why do we have read them?”

Me: “On the surface, it may seem that these verses have no relation to how we live today. But if we dig just a little deeper, we can actually find great meaning in every Torah portion.”

Student: “Like what?”

Me: “That’s what we are going to explore together.”

Then we begin to study and learn that after the destruction of the Second Temple, when our people were no longer able to offer physical sacrifices, the Rabbis taught us to sacrifice the “offerings of our hearts,” which today we call prayer. If the face of upheaval, fear and uncertainty, the Rabbis were bold enough to imagine a completely different way of drawing close to God, one in which we are still engaged today. Just as there were sacrifices that were meant to atone for mistakes or sins, so we have prayers of forgiveness. Just as there were sacrifices of thanksgiving, so we have prayers of gratitude. And just as there was the sh’lamim offering, an offering of wholeness, of shalom, so we have prayers for peace.

The sh’lamim offering is often translated as the sacrifice of well-being. The Israelites were instructed to bring a sh’lamim offering as an offering of thanksgiving or in the fulfillment of a vow.

I am thinking a lot right now about what the sacrifice of well-being means to us today, and how suddenly, an ancient (and, some would say, meaningless) practice seems very relevant to our lives. I am thinking about bar and bat mitzvah families and wedding couples who have postponed their simchas in order to model and practice social distancing in the hopes of keeping the community safe and slowing down the spread of COVID-19.

A sacrifice of well-being.

I am thinking of all of the doctors and nurses and technicians and custodial staffs and pharmacists and drugstore/grocery workers and delivery people and food pantry volunteers and so many more who are, of course, taking precautions, but still potentially risking their health and the health of their families for a greater good.

A sacrifice of well-being.

I am thinking of businesses of all sizes and non-profits and synagogues that are doing all they can to continue to pay their workers even while they are losing income.

A sacrifice of well-being

And so many more. Biblical commentator Nehama Leibowitz, in her New Studies in Vayikra, notes that the sacrifice of well-being is unique in that there is no petition connected to it. The offerer brings a gift, yet asks nothing of God in return, motivated only by what Naphtali Herz Weisel calls “an abundance of joy, of gratitude to God.” And though nothing is asked for, in the making of the offering, a feeling of well-being, a feeling of wholeness and peace, come to the one who has made the sacrifice. (My note: this reminds me of how we give in church today—freely, with joy, and with an awareness that we give not to an institution primarily, but we give to God from what God has given us. An abundance of joy….)

During these times of uncertainty and fear, may we continue to make these sacrifices of well-being for ourselves, for each other, for our communities, for our world. May we do so, when we can, with gratitude and with joy. And in doing so, may we open ourselves to feelings of wholeness and calm, of peace and of connection with the Holy One.

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I hope this was helpful and that you better understand the intersection of sacrifice in our own lives today and how this connects with these original passages from Leviticus. I love that I am able to make these connections in my own life. Holiness, abundance and offering.

Be blessed, and be a blessing to others,

ML

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