This week we begin a new book of the Torah, the book of Vayikra, known in English as Leviticus, and known to the rabbis as Torat Kohanim, or Priestly Wisdom. On the surface, the heart of the book of Leviticus is procedural descriptions for temple sacrifices. And for this reason, it is often unappreciated in contemporary liberal circles. However what appears to be a story about blood and guts (quite literally!), is in fact a story about our longing for intimacy.
The Hebrew word Korban קורבן, often translated as sacrifice or offering, in fact comes from the root קרב (kuf resh bet), and the verb לקרב (L'Karev) - meaning to bring near. While it might appear that the chapters of Leviticus are an interruption in the flow of biblical narrative, we are called to look closer at the priestly traditions because within them is revealed a value system that knows we humans crave closeness. We crave connection and community. We crave intimacy, in its many forms - even as we are scared, hurt and healing from it.
In a post on Facebook this week, Rabbi Michael Adam Latz commented:
"So entangled is our liberation and our quest for holiness, that the stories are never, in fact, separated: We read the Hagadah, the Pesach story, in the midst of reading the book of Vayikra. These moments, these holy pursuits, collapse into one another and erupt into Judaism's purpose: To cry out for a life of liberation and holiness, that to be a free people is to reach for heaven and earth in the same instant and try with all our strength and all our compassion and all our spiritual resolve to bring them together in one unified and holy embrace."
The book of Vayikra is the story of our human imperfection, our capacity to forgive and the closeness, the intimacy that comes from real teshuva - transformative healing. When God instructed Moses to cry out unto Pharoah, "Let my people go..." God specified, "...that they may be of service." Our freedom is not a means to an end. It is a call to come closer to each other, to our fragility and our longings, and to know that holiness lies in the space between us if we only have the courage to take a step in.
Rabbi Ari Lev