Though this parsha, like much of the rest of the book of Vayikra, is replete with difficult detail regarding very esoteric, spiritual and even mystical topics of Temple service and animal sacrifices, there is a basic and important message that the Torah wishes to communicate to us amidst this welter of detail. And, I feel that this message is the recognition that sin is a constant part of human life.
We are taught: “…that there is no righteous person who lives on this earth without sin.” It is one of the weaknesses that we inherited from Adam and Eve and therefore is part of the DNA of human existence. In recognizing this fact, the Torah, as is its usual wont, deals with the reality of human existence and not with an imagined perfection of human behavior that has never existed in human history and will never exist.
Unlike other monotheistic faiths, Judaism does not allow for pie-in-the-sky, super angelic portrayals of human life. As King Solomon states: “What was is what will be, and there is really nothing new as far as human behavior is concerned under the sun.” So the Torah in this week’s parsha takes it as a given that people will sin… and do so pretty regularly. Therefore an antidote to sin must be created so that people will eventually improve and find forgiveness for their sins from a benevolent Creator.
I think that the entire Temple service as described for us in the book of Vayikra is meant to emphasize to human beings our innate weakness and to the omnipresence of sin in our lives. Knowing that we have sinned is the beginning of redemption and holiness.
I believe that this is part of the great message of Yom Kippur and why this holy day retains its vibrancy and relevance even to Jews who are otherwise far distant from Torah observance and meaningful Jewish life. Deep down within us we are all aware that as human beings, not only are we prone to sin but, again in the words of the Torah: “Sin crouches at our doorstep.”
The Temple building itself, the priesthood and the Temple service of animal sacrifices, all combine to make the realization of sin a constant factor in Jewish life. In order for this to be effective, the Jewish people had to be aware of what lay behind the edifice, pomp, ritual, meat and wine that was generated by the Temple and its services.
It is this point that the prophets of Israel stress in their condemnation of the shallowness of understanding regarding the Temple service that so characterized the kingdom of Judah in First Temple times. Being unaware of the underlying message regarding the constant vulnerability to sin and the necessity to counteract it, and merely concentrating on the antidote of forgiveness, which the Temple represented, was shortsighted and eventually led to the disappearance of the Temple itself. The Torah wanted us to attempt to eradicate the source of pain and not merely become addicted to pain killers. I believe this to be the subtle message of this week’s parsha and of the entire book of Vayikra.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com