What a story has unfurled over the Book of Sh’mot (Exodus). An Israelite, brought up in the heart of Egypt, married to a Midianite woman, is chosen by God to lead his people from the clutches of the empire which nurtured him. The people escape from Egypt and are saved from the might of its imperial army by a miracle, or by that army’s own military strength, whose weight literally bogs soldiers, chariots and horses down in the mud, where they are drowned by the returning sea. For the Israelites there follows a host of adventures, of ups and downs, of moments of glory and moments of shame, as they veer between faith and love of God on the one hand and fear and petulance on the other. Sh’mot finishes on a high, however, as the Tabernacle is erected and all its furniture and furnishings are installed, everything “as God had commanded Moses”. The Maftir of the final parsha (final section of the weekly portion of Torah readings), P’kudey (Accounts) ends on a particularly comforting and mystical note as it describes how “the cloud covered the Communion Tent, and God’s glory filled the Tabernacle.”
And so we come to the third Book, Va’yikra, where we plunge into a series of detailed descriptions of the many sacrifices demanded by God. In the daily Sacharit (morning service) in Orthodox communities, some of these offerings are described and, in the Amidah, Jews pray for the restoration of the Temple services. We don’t do this in Reform synagogues and many of us would find it difficult, possibly distasteful, to witness animal sacrifices. Indeed, I suspect that not a few Orthodox Jews would too. However, do we have the ‘right’ to feel this way? I suspect that much of our aversion to sacrifices is due to the distance that now exists for the vast majority of us between the act of killing animals and our consumption of them. Besides, we should remember that the vast majority of animals sacrificed by our ancestors were eaten either by the Priests, the Levites or by the people offering the animals. Is it not perhaps something to be admired, that the food that was eaten was also dedicated to God? Would this not make the act of killing animals and eating their flesh more significant, more holy?
To get to understand sacrifices better, to pray, sing, read and converse come along this Saturday at 10:30. Pat Lipert will be leading the service and, apparently, there is a whiff of frankincense about it.