Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayikra
A couple of years (or so) ago, I spoke and wrote about the differences between holy, holey, and wholly. To recap, large parts of our population want and have little to do with religion. They find it inconsistent and lacking value in their lives. As with a sock that is worn through and cannot cover one’s foot, religion is holey and needs to be updated or trashed. For others, their practice is so fervent and severely myopic that they define what they do as keeping “God’s way,” dotting I’s and crossing T’s, while demeaning the ways in which others find their way onto God’s heavenly dance floor – holy.
The goal of faith, however, should be about understanding God’s breadth is beyond us, and that defining God’s ways into our narrow focus is blaspheme, at best. The whole world matters, not just those who agree with us. Where our sense of humanity stops at the horizon of what we think we know, it is as if we excommunicate all others from God. It seems that true faithfulness needs to be placed in a sense of God’s wholeness, not ours. In fact, the word for peace is not holy (Kodesh); it is wholeness (Shalom).
In the context of societal interactions, the concept of ethically and morally elevating one’s spirit has to involve learning a respectful interaction with a broad cross-section of people. We grow best when we grow organically with the entire population with whom we interact. We live in a diverse world. We must acknowledge the importance of being able to relate to people in meaningful ways to them, not just to us. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and teacher Gwendolyn Brooks taught us, “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
Equally and equitably, we must be responsible to and for each other. In some real ways, we trust each other to take care of the world and hold it intact – doing the best to make sure that they play their societal roles in the best interest of the whole community, not just part of it. When we hold positions of trust, we need to be careful and not cavalier in our behaviors. People follow the lead of the people they hold in high regard. One the one hand, our leaders are only human. On the other hand, they accepted a role – a platform that comes with blessings and challenges. We don’t get one without the other.
As the Book of Leviticus begins, we read about the core pieces of the sacrificial cult at the altar. Over the course of the Torah, we will read of hundreds of different offerings for holidays, life-cycle events, thanksgiving, peace, guilt, atonement, and so many others. Torah teaches us that everything we do has a consequence. Some of the offerings become food for the family, the poor, or the priesthood. Some of the offerings, especially some of the sin offerings require the obliteration of the animal. In each case, Torah requires us to bring the purest offering to the altar.
We don’t have a Temple altar anymore, nor a sacrificial altar. We do, however, still bring offerings on the altar of the public well-being on a regular basis. The fruits of our offerings either help heal or destroy the community around us. For each such offering, the goal is to, as the text reads, bring “a pleasing odor before God.” Reading this text in a more allegorical sense – each engagement should make the world around us more whole. If it is an offering of atonement, we must know that our bad behavior senselessly took a precious life for no purpose other than to deprive the world. For the blessings we bring, we know that the offering feeds the bodies and souls that need to be nourished. Whether it is our most earnest t’shuvah or our most engaging love and shared blessings, we grow a world of security and peace – a world of shalom.
We are going to mess up. We are going to bring blessings in ways we could not have known. Either way, our next steps should elevate us and the world around us.