This week we begin reading the book of Vayikra. The book is also known as Torat Kohanim or Sefer Kohanim, as it deals with the role of the Kohanim, the Priests, in their service, enabling the whole community to serve God.
The book serves as a code that focuses on ritual, legal and moral practices, with emphasis on the application of the law. One of the practices is the sacrificial system, with complex requirements that enabled the community to engage with customs and conventions that connected them to God. Only after the experiences and lessons we learned in the book of Exodus, are we ready for a closer system of understanding our duty to serve God in more meaningful ways.
The sacrificial system existed from the beginning of the book of Vayikra until the destruction of the Second Temple. In line with the other statutes and laws detailed in Vayikra, it wasn’t about automatic forgiveness, set-and-forget Judaism, or any other term that might be used to describe the sacrificial system as an easy way to connect with the practices of our people during those times, as they committed themselves to serving God.
Korbanot (the term the Torah uses for these sacrifices) were designed to bring the people closer to God, through a tangible set of practices. The term Korban itself refers to bringing one closer (it is taken from the root word karov, meaning close or closeness).
It wasn’t just a symbolic gesture, and like many of the other statutes listed in the book of Vayikra, there were a number of moving parts, as well as the involvement of others in carrying out these practices.
The one bringing the Korban had to obtain the animal or grain through their own means. The process of bringing the offering was designed to be meaningful and inspiring.
Only the Kohanim were allowed to offer the actual sacrifice at the altar in the Sanctuary (and later the Temple). The circumstances for bringing the offering determined what would be sacrificed for each of the five main offering categories (burnt, grain, sin, guilt and peace).
With the exception of the burnt offering, all the other offerings also provided food for those dedicated to Temple service (the Kohanim and the Levi’im [Levites]), who had almost no other ability to obtain these items. It often also provided food for the one who brought the offering and sometimes for their family too.
This system was designed with more than one purpose in mind. It placed responsibility onto the people, it provided food, it required acceptance of the practice, and it set up a system of centrality and focus. For this system to work properly, all parties had to acknowledge these elements and understand the system’s role and the people’s role in bringing themselves closer to God.
While the system of Korbanot as described in the Torah hasn’t been practiced for nearly 2,000 years, our commitment to the system of prayer and responsibility is just as central to our beliefs and practices today.
Rev. Sam Zwarenstein
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025
p: 02 9389 6444
Shabbat, October 31, 2020
13th of Cheshvan, 5781
Friday, October 9 6:57PM
Motzei Shabbat 7:03PM
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