25 TzavWe are at the end of March and have entered spring, and preparing for Passover begins in just over three weeks. We are in the third book of the Torah, Leviticus. Rabbi Chefitz taught in Joseph’s Table that Leviticus, the 3rd book of the Torah, is the essential book as the 3rd act in a Shakespeare play is also essential in Shakespeare’s five-act plays. I knew that Parashat Kedoshim is the middle of the Torah and is considered the essence of the Torah, but I hadn’t thought about Leviticus being the middle book of the Torah. In the traditional text of Torah with commentary, Mikraot Gedolot, as in the Talmud, the core text is in the center of the folio page with commentaries surrounding it. Should the page wear or fray, the core and essential text will be unharmed. Leviticus, being nestled with two other books on each side of it in the scroll, is in that place of honor as
well.


I work under the assumption that everything in the Torah can have meaning and relevance for us today if we study and explore it enough. This assumption is challenged in the first two portions of Leviticus, with details about the different kinds of offerings and sacrifices. The sacrificial cult ended with the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 C.E. Our worship and repentance process has been transformed
over the centuries bringing us to today. The Mishkan sanctuary is complete so God can dwell b’tocham amid the people. It is not about God dwelling in the Mishkan but about God being closer to the people. Leviticus is about the cherished relationship between God and the Israelites, with Aaron and the other priests as the intermediaries handling the sacrificial cult. Leviticus addresses what it means to be set apart and holy, Kadosh. Rabbi Janet Marder suggests one way to understand biblical sacrifice is to see it as a way to rebalance and renew. She wrote in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (p.590): “If we closely read the seemingly dry instructions and bloody details of Parashat Vayikra, we learn that through the discipline of our faith, we can redeem what is broken and flawed with ourselves, transforming barbaric urges into opportunities for blessing.” While we don’t relate to God through the sacrificial cult anymore, we do seek a holy community and connections with one another and with God. Judaism teaches that people are to take responsibility for their actions. This plays out in the people bringing physical sacrifices and offerings in the Torah. The full weight of responsibility is on the person who has done wrong to present an offering to God. The priest officiates in a mechanical way. Today, we can also decide to give ourselves to right wrongs, offer thanks, give back for what we have received, and help others. Leviticus centering around the Mishkan, offers us the model of a holy space to come together. For us, it can be Temple Israel, or it may be your home or other places of sacred gathering.

Parashat Tzav, this week’s Torah portion concludes with the ordination ceremony of Aaron and his sons as priests. Moses presides over the 7-day ceremony. Note the number seven. As with the days of the week, it is a complete cycle. After detailed training, instruction, sacrifices, and rituals, Aaron and his sons are ready to begin their priestly functioning on the 8th day, the day after, of beginning the work of putting the instructions into practice. Stay tuned for the drama that ensues in parashat Shemini next
week.

Shabbat Shalom