Drash on Parashat Vayikra 2017

Drash on Parashat Vayikra

Rabbi Aviva Kipen
Progressive Judaism Victoria


None of the offerings detailed in Chapter 1 of Vayikra and which form the bulk of the instruction for Leviticus, can be performed. Given the absence of the Temple, there is nowhere to take the gifts required, there is no setting enabling Levi’im or Kohanim to enact the instructions.

Whilst we may lustily sing our choruses during birkat hamazon, the Progressive Movement does not seek the restoration of temple worship, which is bloody, messy, smelly and would turn the stomachs of even the most ardent meat eaters. Vegetarians must have a good deal of difficulty with the animal sacrifice elements of this middle book of Torah. 

So how do we find 21st century meaning in this confronting text, into which we launch ourselves this week? Tiny but significant echoes of this portion linger, despite the absence of the original contexts of altars and shrines that became centralized to a single location in Jerusalem. (See references to Dan and Gilgal in Kings if you want to follow those territorial and quality control stories.)

Go looking! Have any customs remained in your family’s minhag, having travelled with them over thousands of years, and preserved links to this portion? Do you take pleasure in baking your weekly challot, perhaps because there are no other suppliers around? Because no gluten free options exist? Or because it gives you a buzz to anticipate Shabbat by doing the task, taking pride in the kneading and rising, the plaiting and glazing? Our risen challot , which are clearly not temple offerings, may defy the instruction (Lev 2:11) that the Meal Offering not include any fermenting agent, neither yeast nor honey. And though we call each of our challot a “challah”, the loaf cannot be that challah portion taken by the priests, for deliberate incineration on an altar. Still today, in all bread made within the traditional understanding of kashrut, a symbolic olive-sized portion of the proved dough is set aside and deliberately burned in the oven, replicating the ancient action, if less dramatically so.

Some UPJ families who make their own loaves deliberately don’t “take/remove challah”. Rather, they place a reasonable donation for every loaf of bread into a moneybox to support a food charity for the needy, as an alternative act of kavanah, focus and deliberation. The donation elevates the baking task to one of setting aside for others, of recognition of the sacred blessing of having enough food to eat and invoking a consciousness in the form of generosity towards those who do not have enough.

There is still another link to Vayikra. Is yours one of the families that continues to sprinkle salt over your broken challah before eating it? If so, you may have held onto (or chosen to revive), a symbolic reenactment of Lev 2:13. The chapter describes the Flour (meal = solet) Offering in detail. But before moving to the following topic, Shelamim, the offering of well-being (Lev 3:1), the final instruction is given for the offering of the meal offering: it should be offered with oil (and frankincense if the meal is bikkurimand salt!

Some families still sprinkle salt but have forgotten why. Others deliberately do not sprinkle salt on their bread, in awareness that this is not a meal offering to God, and that we who consume it are not Priests and Levites (Lev 2:10). Either way, Leviticus invites us to grapple with how we can spend the coming several weeks dwelling in the sacred culture of a past era. And what does the prophet (Hosea 6:6) remind us? That the worship of our hearts, avodah shebalev, and compassionate awareness and behavior are what God is after.

Hearts and minds work together, as we are reminded daily in the Sh’ma. We have several weeks to reflect on how we currently make decisions enacting service to a sacred ideal. Our system is not one that has remained dependent on the slaughter of animals, but rather on the deliberation with which we inform our choices and how we transmit them. How do we hear the voice, which spoke to Moshe from the Tent of Meeting (Lev 1:1), in our modern day world and discern a modern application of ideas worth preserving in ways that will linger with meaningful echoes for the generations that follow us? Pass the salt please ……..

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