Vayikra

“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayikra 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Obsession, Alienation and Finding a Spiritual Balance

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Parshat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26 )

Obsession, Alienation and Finding a Spiritual Balance”

What happens when spirituality becomes suffocating? When we act by rote rather than by creative engagement? Is there only one way to connect with God? Or are there multiple paths to spirituality?
 
Welcome to the Book of Vayikra, Leviticus, which is all about spirituality and kedusha – holiness – whether in relation to spaces imbued with holiness such as the Mishkan; people imbued with holiness such as Kohanim; times imbued with holiness such as Shabbat and holidays; or everyday interactions between people, which are also imbued with holiness.
 
Vayikra delineates the laws that the Jewish People must follow in order to live up to our responsibility of being a Holy Nation.
 
In fact, the book is so focused on these laws that, unlike the other four books of the Torah which are filled with narratives, here in the Book of Vayikra, there are only two stories.

The first and more prominent story involves the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu – two sons of Aaron, the High Priest who, at the moment of the consecration of the Tabernacle take their own fire pans and offer a strange fire to God.

We’re told that when they bring foreign offerings of incense:

 ותצא אש מלפני ה  

 and a fire went out from God

 ותאכל אותם 

and consumed them

וימותו לפני ה

 and they died before God. (Leviticus 10:2)

Then there is the second, less well-known story.

וַיֵּצֵא בֶּן אִשָּׁה יִשְׂרְאֵלִית וְהוּא בֶּן אִישׁ מִצְרִי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

The son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man went out among the People of Israel

And following an altercation with an Israelite man, the Torah states:

וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת הַשֵּׁם וַיְקַלֵּל

And the son of the Israelite woman (and Egyptian father) cursed the Name of God. (Leviticus 24:10)

This act of blasphemy is a capital offense for which he is executed.

Why are these the only two stories placed in the Book of Vayikra? What message do they hold for us regarding the theme of spirituality?

I believe that both these stories are included to alert us to the potential dangers that can arise in our quest for spirituality.

The story of Nadav and Avihu shows us that even if one’s intent is pure, there are surely limits to what is permitted in the effort to attain higher levels of spirituality.

That one may not pursue a relationship with God at all costs, without boundaries. That the end does not justify the means.

I find the second story even more interesting.

A troubled, marginalized young man denounces his community and blasphemes God, and ultimately pays for it with his life.

Where did this man come from? What drove him to this rebellion?

This story shows us what happens when overbearing limits are placed on the range of acceptable religious expression based on the comfort levels of our community – rather than on actual Jewish law.

Perhaps the story of the Megadef, the one who curses God, is about a young man for whom the religious environment is suffocating.

The Torah tells us that this man is the child of an intermarriage. He was the child on the block who we told our kids not to talk to or play with.

He was the child we preferred not to talk about in our community.

We dismissed him by saying he is not like us. And by excluding him, we stifled his spiritual development.

We didn’t help him find the proper vehicles of connection and made his religious environment toxic. So when he curses God, we are also responsible! Because we are the ones who alienated him from his community and his God.

We will be reading a lot about the lofty ideals of holiness and spirituality in Leviticus.

But let’s also consider what we can do to make it accessible to everyone, especially those who might not fit neatly into the box of our norms and expectations.

Welcome to the Book of Leviticus, where holiness and spirituality must be accessible through multiple portals of entry and celebrated by all of the Jewish People together each in their own way.

Shabbat Shalom.

Parshat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –  “If the entire congregation of Israel commits an inadvertent violation as a result of (a mistaken legal decision of the Highest Court)….and they thereby violate one of the prohibitory commandments of God, they shall incur guilt” (Lev. 4:13) If the Jewish state …

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Parshat Vayikra: Is Animal Sacrifice in our Future? Rabbi David Wolkenfeld studied at Yeshivat HaMivtar in 5759 and 5764 and serves as the rabbi of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Chicago. Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed (III:32) famously compares the necessary process of growth and development of all animal life to the inclusion …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Vayikra 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Using the Head and the Heart: Addressing Halakhic Challenges in the Age of Corona”

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Using the Head and the Heart: Addressing Halakhic Challenges in the Age of Corona

Over the past few days we have received many questions from our rabbinic students and our rabbinic couples who are throughout Europe – questions dealing with the coronavirus. Questions, for example, from a rabbinic couple who are about to, please God, have a baby. They know it’s a boy. They have a responsibility to their community, but if they stay in their community their child won’t have a brit in its proper time, on the 8th day due to travel restrictions. What are they to do? Or even more challenging questions, in response to new rules that are in effect in certain areas of Europe, that if someone dies from the coronavirus, the body needs to be cremated. Should tahara, ritually washing the body, be performed even if there is not going to be a proper burial? Another question arises from the fact that so many of our rabbinic couples are involved in virtual door-knocking, lifting up a phone and talking to shut-ins or people who are quarantined. Our couples are concerned that the people with whom they are in touch are in a depressed state. Are they permitted to call them on Shabbat? Are they permitted to keep their computer on before the holiday of Pesach, and create a Facebook Live Seder, so that those people aren’t alone, since being alone might cause them to be at a certain risk, either psychologically or physically? These are some of the questions that we have been receiving over the past 72 hours from our Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel rabbinic and educational emissaries throughout the world. How do we answer such questions? Sefer Vayikra reminds us of the responsibility to create a Mamlechet Kohanim, a community of priests. The book of Vayikra does not just focus on the responsibilities of the Kohen in the Temple, but the responsibilities of the priestly nation, the Jewish people, to create an environment which celebrates the notion of holiness. It is why, in this book, we are told, Ve’Ahavta le’Reiacha KamochaLeviticus 19:18 love your neighbor as you love yourself. Kedoshim te’hiyu, we need to be holy, we need to create a holy environment. Leviticus 19:2. This is the message that we need to communicate, to ourselves, and in our case, to our rabbis and educators throughout Europe – the responsibility to be Kadosh, to create holiness, to create new facts on the ground even in challenging times. Indeed, the unique priestly vestments that the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest wore, give us some intuition and insight that can help us answer these questions. The Kohen Gadol wore a tzitz on his forehead that said Kodesh la’Hashem, Holy to God, Exodus 39:30ֹּ and a breastplate that represented all of the tribes of Israel with one stone representing each tribe. Exodus 39:8-15. It is a reminder that when the Kohen Gadol answered modern contemporary questions of his time, he needed to first bring his arsenal of Torah knowledge, the tzitzKodesh la’Hashem, his holiness to God, into his answer of his question. But being a person that simply spits out information, or Googles an answer, isn’t sufficient, because we also wear the Choshen, we also wear the breastplate over our hearts, to make sure that any answer to any question has to also contain a psychological understanding of where our people are. The twelve precious stones, representing the twelve tribes, each has a different color, each has a different breaking point, and we need to recognize that as we answer our halachic questions. It is the shiluv, it is the blending of the tzitz and the choshen, of the breastplate and the statement that we wear on our foreheads, of being holy to God, that allows us to answer these questions. Please God, we will answer these questions properly. But we as a community, as we enter the reading of the book of Vayikra, have to understand that it is our responsibility to create holiness in the everyday. God willing, even in this challenging time, we will be able to accomplish that.

This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” has been dedicated by Mike Aron in honor of Issy Aron, a remarkable example of Chesed, Resilience and Emunah Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel – “He [God] called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying…” (Leviticus 1:1) So …

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