[Originally written in 2003, I offer a revisiting of this musing.]
Blood and sacrifice. Burnt offerings. Washing innards, Arranging body parts. Wringing pigeon necks, and tearing their wings off. Burning grain cakes. Flinging blood. Guilt offerings. Sin offerings. Offerings for accidental and unknowingly committed sins.
Allow me to be the wicked child and ask – what is all this to me?
It’s yucky. It’s gross. It’s unpleasant.
Putting aside for the moment the thought that our ancestors were probably more comfortable with these acts than our modern sensibilities might allow us to be, the idea behind all these things can certainly have relevancy in our times.
It’s a simple idea, really. It’s about getting our hands dirty. It’s about understanding that there is no way to distance ourselves from having to roll up our sleeves and really work at having relationships with each other – and, as importantly, a relationship with G”d.
(If you think having any kind of relationship with G”d is supposed to a bed of roses, think again. Some people speak about having “found” G”d. Remember those ubiquitous bumper stickers that read “I Found It.” They were a product of the Campus Crusade for Christ back in the mid-to-late 70s. They were intended to give people the opportunity to witness for Christ whenever someone asked the obvious “what did you find?” question. I always wanted to have a bumper sticker made the said “I Never Lost It.” But I digress. G”d, at least as described in the Jewish tradition – though perhaps sans the rabbinic white-washings and apologetics – is not a deity that demonstrates consistency and emotional maturity. If you’re not struggling to have a relationship – or in your relationship – with G”d, you’re not doing it right.)
Let’s face it — we have it easy. We communicate with G”d through the offerings of our lips, with song, prayer. For many of us, this seems to be enough. G”d demands much more of us than this. G”d demands the offerings of our hearts.
G”d has no needs of gifts, of offerings; no need of the same kind of bodily sustenance that we do. G”d has no need for the meat or blood of sacrifices, the fragrances and smells of offerings, the burnt cakes. All these things are for our sakes, and not G”d’s sake. G”d needs something from this relationship. Figuring out what each of us might have to offer that G”d might desire can be, if such a relationship is important to you, a purpose of life.
(An interesting aside. The text tells us, in Lev. 3:16b, that “kol cheilev l’Ad’nai” “all fat is Gd’s.” This is an additional prohibition to the consuming of blood. The text goes on to say that it is an eternal law for us that we shall not eat any fat and any blood. (Lev. 3:17) We always seem to remember that blood part, but the fat part seems to have been overlooked. Remember all those lovely jars of schmaltz in mother’s kitchen? Perhaps we’d do well to always remind ourselves that “kol cheilev l’Ad”nai.” Of course, being on a string of low-carb diets might make this a little difficult for me! But I digress.)
A relationship with G”d is not an easy thing. It is certainly a holy thing, but not a relationship one can have without recognizing that things physical, and not just spiritual need be involved. (Now there’s a great argument for observing the laws of kashrut.) G”d needs not just our hearts and our minds, but our bodies, too. And once our bodies are involved, we’re in the realm of potentially “icky” things, of having to get our hands dirty.
(An aside from 2018. Now meal kits are the new trend. They once again evoke mixed feelings. The modern grocery has already distanced us from the sources of what we eat that we generally take them for granted. Now we don’t even have to go to the store to get the food. Someday, we’ll have the food printer – actually, it’s already here, but in its infancy – and eventually the Star Trek replicator. Robots are starting to make in-roads. Computers are taking our orders at McDonalds. At least one good thing about meal kits is that people actually have to do the prep and cooking – though I can imagine the ultimate in yuppie comfort – ordering meal kits to be prepared by the housekeeper.)
All life is sacred. Animals are part of G”d’s creation. G”d does not ask us lightly to offer animals as sacrifices. While PETA may think it’s acceptable to compare the slaughter of millions of innocent Jews, gays, Romani and others to the routine slaughter of animals for food in their campaigns for more humane treatment of animals, they miss the point of what we learn in parashat Vayikra.
Sacrificing animals teaches us not that we are superior to them. It does not teach us that it’s OK to slaughter animals, or treat them inhumanely. The Torah is clear on the concept of not causing tzar baalei chayim (the suffering of living animals) and our obligation to treat animals with respect, honor and care. (It should be noted that the tzar in this commandment indeed comes from that same Hebrew root meaning narrow, or constricted that is used in the word mitzrayim – Egypt – the place of our constriction/suffering. I submit that one of the reasons for asking animal sacrifice of the people of Israel was to help them realize that all life, including the life of animals, is sacred. The animals used for sacrifice are carefully chosen, and must be unblemished. The “gift” of their lives is not wasted-what is not offered to Gd that is edible is consumed by the priests and others.
Rather than compare inhumane treatment of animals to the Shoah, perhaps PETA ought to use the example of the sacred nature of sacrificing an animal’s life as taught by our holy Torah.
There is a reason our tradition has developed prayers like the morning’s “asher yatzar” in which we openly discuss the inner workings of our bodies. There’s a reason that Torah speaks of how we deal with excrement. A relationship with G”d demands we accept that we have our physical bodies for a reason, and must offer them in service to G”d as much as we offer our spiritual and emotional selves. We need to be thinking about G”d just as much when we’re in the bathroom as when we are in the synagogue.
I’m not personally in favor of restoring animal sacrifice, even if the Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem. (For that matter, I’m not all that enthusiastic for a restoration of the Temple and the Temple cult at all. I’m even less sure that the modern state of Israel is worthy of being the successor to biblical Israel – not that biblical Israel was any paragon of ethics and virtues.) I am, however, in favor of incorporating into our daily lives the message and the lessons to be learned from G”d’s having asked us, at one time, to engage in ritual animal and plant material sacrifice.(Note to self – thanks, I needed to read that today, Adrian. Sometimes, in my desire to distance my ever-evolving theology from troublesome concepts, I lose that spark that drives me to be someone who seeks to redeem the irredeemable.)
After all, “kol cheilev l’Ad”nai” — “all fat is G”d’s.” We’ve certainly plenty of fat on our bodies. And the word cheilev is used to refer to human body fat as well as animal fat. It also is used to refer to the “best part of” as in the “fat of the land.” And it is also used in a negative way, to describe the “unreceptive heart” by comparing the heart to the unemotional mid-body fat that is near it.
Let’s not let our fat (or our hearts) be of the unemotional kind. Let’s give our “fat” to G”d – the best part of who we are — emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.
©2018(portions © 2003) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on This Parasha:
Vayikra 5777 – As G”d Is My Witness (aka Osymandias II)
Vayikra 5776 – Stuff That’s Still Bugging Me
Vayikra 5775 – Meaningful Gifts II
Vayikra 5773 (Redux 5761) – Mambo #613: A Little Bit Of Alef In My Torah
Vayikra 5772 – Confession: Not Just for Catholics
Vayikra 5771 – I’d Like To Bring To Your Attention…
Vayikra 5770 – You Can Fool Most of the People Most of the Time
Vayikra 5768 – Redux 5763 – Kol Kheilev
Vayikra 5767-Stuff That’s Bugging Me
Vayikra 5766 – Osymandias
Vayikra-Shabbat Zachor 5765-Chatati
Vayikra 5763 – Kol Cheilev
Vayikra 5759 & 5762-Salvation?
Vayikra 5760-Meaningful Gifts
Vayikra 5764 and 5761-Mambo #613: A Little Bit of Alef in My Torah…