A Guide to Choosing Proper Sacrifices
This Shabat we begin to read the book of Vayikra. This book of Vayikra has
very little narrative to it and concentrates mainly on the sacrifices that
were offered in the Temple service of the mishkan and the beit hamikdash;
the laws of purity and defilement; and a listing of many of the commandments
of the Torah and Jewish ritual.
This makes this section of the Torah a difficult one to comprehend,
internalize and attempt to teach to others. Therefore our educational sense
would have postponed the teaching of this book of the Torah until the years
of maturity and life experience have fashioned us as Torah devotees and
scholars. Yet the rabbis of Jewish tradition have ordained that children
begin their Torah experiences by studying the book of Vayikra.
Their statement is: “Let those who are still pure and holy begin their
education by studying the concepts of purity and holiness.” Purity and
holiness are difficult concepts to study. They are states of being, more of
the heart and soul than that of the mind.
Someone who does not ever deal in being holy and pure will never be able to
fathom the secrets of the Torah that lie in this book of Vayikra. That
person will only see a seeming hodgepodge of laws and rituals, many of which
would be judged to be anachronistic in our “enlightened” age.
But our Torah is a Torah of experience and emotion as much as it is one of
soaring intellect and deep analytical thought. To begin to understand the
concepts of purity and holiness, one must be, or at least strive to be, a
person of holiness and purity. And that is a most significant lesson that
the book of Vayikra teaches us.
Purity and holiness are inextricably bound to the overriding value of
constant sacrifice in Jewish life. It is no coincidence that the laws of the
sacrificial worship in the Temple are connected to the laws of purity in
this book of Vayikra. Without sacrifice, constant daily sacrifice, purity
and holiness are unachievable goals.
In a very contaminated environment, it is most difficult to keep one’s self
clean and pure. It requires great discipline and restraint, care and will -
in short, a supreme sense of sacrifice. In life we are always faced with
myriad, daily choices. Every choice that we make indicates that we have
sacrificed another choice that we could have made.
Then the only question that remains is whether we made the correct
sacrifice. Will our choice bring us closer to a sense of holiness and purity
and purpose in our lives or, perhaps, will it do the opposite? The seeming
jumble of laws in the book of Vayikra is meant to guide our choices of which
sacrifices we should wisely make in our lives.
The Torah details for us all of the categories of sacrifices – public,
private, those of leaders and of paupers – and thereby points the way to our
sacrificing wisely and productively. This is the overall thrust of this
great biblical book of Vayikra.
Rabbi Berel Wein