Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Vayikra

I went to see a congregant and friend perform at a benefit concert last week. Several bands took the stage and played a set of several songs, raising money for disabled children in the area. This looked to be a very blue collar crowd, and yet the afternoon event raised over $22,000. Everyone there had a blast.

When my friend’s band took the stage, the place went nuts. Joe coordinated it all, folks love his effort and his music. The band’s first piece was one of my favorites: “Low Spark Of The High-Heeled Boys.” There are as many theories for what the song means as there are critics, and its broad potential is part of its greatness. Ultimately, the song speaks about someone striving to achieve greatness in a corrupt system, wherein he has amazing potential and trusts the system, but lacks skills to deal with the difficult world. Whether the song speaks of drug addicts or musicians suffering under contracts with corrupt music labels, the pathos screams through the lyrics of the chorus:

The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest was
The low spark of high-heeled boys

We mortgage our future in pursuit of our dreams only to find that the corrupt system took advantage of us. The system at some point implodes, and everyone loses. The low spark is the depression that sets in even while we wear the appearance of glitz and glamour to keep up. We place value on one’s appearance and not substance, and end up idolizing the corruption because it looks successful even while it breeds destruction. Steve Winwood and Traffic never made it to the charts in Britain (their homeland), but the song reached immortality in the USA. I wonder what that says about the two worlds?

We begin the Book of Leviticus this week. God calls to Moses and commands him to spread the word. If/when one brings a sacrificial offering to the altar, one should bring his/her finest. The text goes on to list the appropriate offerings: a large animal, large bird, small bird, or grain without yeast.
The Talmud (Talmud, Menachot 110a ) teaches us, “It is said of a large ox, ‘A fire offering, a sweet savor’; of a small bird, ‘A fire offering, a sweet savor’; and of a meal offering, ‘A fire offering, a sweet savor.’ This is to teach you that it is the same whether a person offers much or little, so long as he directs his heart to heaven.” Further, the grain has to be yeast free, so that no feels that they have to falsely inflate their offering to make it “look more valuable.” This is an offering from the heart, and each offering is of the same value … a sweet savor unto God.

Now, $22,000 is a lot of money to raise in an afternoon. Yes, there are events attended by wealthy people that raise more, but the spirit of this day was at least on par (if not greater than) with these more posh events. There was no need for yeast to inflate the atmosphere. It was everything that one craves in a benefit event. The best part is that this community comes together annually for this event and everyone knows each other. The performers are at least as popular for the people that they are playing for as they are for the music they provide: a rock solid community (pun intended).

This provided the “sweet savor before God.” I see the same in the story of Steve Winwood. He made it famous but never lost sight of all that was sacred, the sweet savor before God. As the Prophet told us, “Hold Fast To Your Dreams.” Pursue them and don’t sell your soul in that pursuit. Trust in yourself to overcome the obstacles in life and don’t cave before them. Scripture tells us that God wants the gift of the heart. If one can afford the bull, bring the bull. If one can only afford the bird, bring it. If all one can afford is simple grain, it is as honorable as any other gift. It is the love and power of the spirit that changes the world, not the bravado of ego. Love yourself enough to be proud of yourself … and the world changes. Shabbat Shalom!