Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thoughts as we complete the book of VaYikra

So, this week is Parshat BeHukotai, the last Parsha of the book of VaYikra. Chazak Chazak, VeNitchazek!

As a professional Jewish educator, I am acutely aware that too often this is the book that many members of our community know the least about. The stories of Bereshit and Shemot – from the story of Creation through Moshe and the crossing of the Red Sea and the Ten Commandments are usually part of people’s general knowledge as are the stories of rebellion found later in Shemot and through BaMidbar. Devarim is the review lesson – whatever we did not pick up earlier we repeat here, and of course the source of the Shema. But VaYikra – come on, Kohanim, purity of community, the Mishkan and its use for Karbanot (sacrifices), forbidden relationships, and so forth…. Too many of us put on the snooze button around the Parsha of Terumah after all of the good stuff in Shemot and don’t wake up until after this book has passed.

So, I want you to join my Let’s Revive Interest in VaYikra campaign! Read on.

Consider this – so many years ago, children studied this as the FIRST experience of Torah learning. Can you imagine that?! Why would that be? So, I think I can encapsulate all of the reading I have done related to this phenomenon in three words ….. TO TEACH DISCIPLINE! Yes, I know, many consider this to be a dirty word, maddening to many and trivial nonsense to others. But, we need it, really!

Remember in our wonderful democracy, discipline can make the difference between giving time to all for everything they need to say and propose (though remembering that 100% of the people will NEVER be 100% happy 100% of the time) and chaotic anarchy! Discipline may limit ME a bit but it will also give me a certain security and grounding that will enable the fulfillment of important goals and desired outcomes for us, or WE!

VaYikra, this is the book in the middle of the Five Books of the Torah. Parshat Kedoshim (chapters 19 – 20) is the Parsha right in the middle of the Five Books of the Torah. And lo and behold, VeAhavta LeReacha Kamocha – Love your neighbor as yourself – is the teaching right in the middle of the Five Books of the Torah. So, how exactly do we begin to do this – to love, accept and appreciate others? We do it through discipline, that’s how!

This is the book in which we learn about all types of Ritual Purity. We learn about Kashrut, you know that system of laws that allow us to eat food that is permitted to remind us that we are to enjoy the products of our environment within a DISCIPLINED context. We learn about health matters and the “isolation” of those that have certain growths on their skin. Remembering that this was BH (that is Before Hospitals), this notion of isolation which may not sound like loving that neighbor so much is really about keeping all healthy. One of my students many years ago, when learning this Parsha – that was a non-leap year so this was Tazria-Metzora – remarked that he understood why those with leprosy were isolated. He explained that maybe this was to protect those that were sick and suffering from the disease from the looks and ridicule of others (this was in second grade, so he was thinking of coming to school with chicken pox and how horrible this would be for him never mind the infectious issue!). A most interesting notion to be sure. Now, clearly we are given all types of reasons for these rules, many of which are Chukim, which are the laws that fall into the category of “I am G-d and I said so!” That being said, we are given many laws throughout VaYikra governing how we are to function in our economic dealings, how we are to act in our marital relations, how we are to interact with others, what we are to eat, and so forth. These laws DISCIPLINE our actions and limit excesses, which is NOT a bad thing. Remember as Jews, we do NOT take vows of chastity, poverty, humility and not speaking. We speak, we have intimate relations, we speak, we eat and drink, we speak some more, we wear nice clothes, and of course we DEFINITELY speak LOTS. So, the point of VaYikra is to remind us that these actions are fine as long as we do not overdo what we do!

Now are you ready to join my campaign? The sign up sheet will be following shortly!


  1. Count me in...Although unfortunately, considering we just finished Vayikrah, I won't be able to express my interest in it in a getting-excited-for-the-parsha-every-shabbat kind of way until next year. O well, I guess I'll have something to look forward to.

    On a more thoughtful note though, I think what you call discipline, I would call intentionality. Although, I think that distinction is more a matter of semantics than of disagreement. Because like you, I see the purpose of these laws to constantly force us to be thinking about the ways in which we live our lives. I just like the word intentionality better :)

  2. Totally with you here. We are so used to be concerned with our individual rights here, in the West, that we completely forget that the rights of the community mean more and the welfare of the community will lead to the welfare of the individual. Of course this should be the true meaning of positive welfare, not a distorted one we've seen fail in some places.