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Parashat Vayikra 5778 — 03/17/2018

Vayikra 1:1-5:26

Sefer Vayikra is called Torat Kohanim, the laws of the Kohanim, and the English name, Leviticus (having to do with the tribe of Levi, of which the Kohanim were a part), bears this out. While the last 5 parshiyot of Sefer Shemot dealt with the Revelation at Sinai and the construction of the Mishkan and its appurtenances, Leviticus deals with the actual performance of the rituals in the Mishkan (and later the Temple in Jerusalem), and with those who perform those rituals, the Kohanim.

Abarbanel again focuses on the symbolism of the various offerings mentioned in our parashah. For example, the olah / burnt offering, which is completely burnt on the altar:

The purpose of the burnt offering is to connect man’s rational soul to Gd, its Creator. Just as the animal is completely consumed by the fire and rises upward, so does man’s soul reconnect to the Creator after death. The purifying fire also symbolizes the intention of the individual bringing the offering to purify himself of all negative thoughts and doubts lurking in his heart.

The olah was accompanied by a meal (flour) offering and a wine libation:

The meal offering and libations that accompany the burnt offering signify both the soul’s connection to Gd and its immortality. This concept of connection and immortality has three dimensions. First of all, this is what distinguishes human beings from animals, who have no such connection and whose souls are not immortal. This is symbolized by the fact that the meal offering was made from wheat, which is specifically a food for man, not animals.

Second, simply being human is not sufficient to guarantee a connection to Gd and immortality. Man must attain perfection in his rational thinking, as well as developing sterling character traits, two steps on the ladder that lead to the ultimate goal. The fine flour is mixed with pure virgin olive oil, which symbolizes the rational mind, since the same oil was used to light the Menorah, whose light is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. Frankincense, with its sweet fragrance, which is added to the meal offering, symbolizes the necessary sterling character traits.

Third, the wine libation symbolizes the unique, true perfection that a Jew can attain through the Torah, as we find that the prophets compared the Jewish nation to a vineyard: “For the vineyard of Gd, the Master of legions, is the House of Israel” (Yeshayahu 5:7), and ‘What will become of the vine tree compared to all the other trees?”(Yechezkel 15:2).

As in the past couple of parshiyot, I would like to suggest that these correspondences are no mere symbols. Rather they are an actualization of a very deep structure and therefore provide a direct purifying effect on those who take part in them, whether as observers or officiants. How can we understand this?

We have argued in the last couple of posts from an analogy to the Unified Field that modern physics appears to be zeroing in on. This single field gives rise to all the basic “elementary particles” from which all matter is created, and to the interactions between those particles. The Unified Field vibrates in one way and we see electrons, in a different way we see quarks or neutrinos or whatever. If it vibrates in still another way we see a photon, which mediates the interaction between electrically charged particles, etc. The Unified Field is self-interacting, and all the form and structure and activity that we see in nature are nothing other than a complex pattern of vibration of the Unified Field.

Our esoteric tradition describes the process of creation in a similar way, with an added twist. All of creation is a complex vibratory pattern, and that pattern can be expressed as the sounds of human speech, specifically the Hebrew language. The Torah itself is the “blueprint of creation” – that is, the sequence of sounds in the Torah is the vibratory pattern to be found at the basis of all of creation, including at the basis of our body. Our liturgy, at least the parts of it that were composed with prophetic insight, may also have this quality.

We are told that “words of Torah” have a purifying and enlightening effect. I think we can take that very literally – hearing (or speaking out) the words of Torah, which are the fundamental vibrations that structure our physiology, may create a kind of “resonance” effect in the physiology, bringing it into line with its ideal state. (Incidentally, it is forbidden to use the words of Torah as some kind of incantation that we say over a
wound or the like.) This would explain why praying for someone who is sick may be effective – our prayers create a resonance effect on the level at which we are all unified, and this effect can be beneficial not only for us, but for the one to whom it is directed.

We also saw that the structure of the Mishkan (and later the Temple) and the items in it is also said to be reflective of the very basic vibratory structure of creation. Thus, being in the Temple and seeing that structure might also create a similar, beneficial resonance effect. What I would like to suggest here is that the performances, the rituals, that take place in the Mishkan / Temple, also have a very precise structure, and that that structure enlivens not only the physiologies of the participants and the observers, but resonate with the fundamental vibrations of creation to create an effect of integration and harmony that spreads out well beyond the confines of the Mishkan. Our Sages tell us that if the nations of the world knew how valuable the performances in the Temple were for the entire world, they would have sent armies to guard it from any harm.  Sadly, our ability to create the proper resonances was lost and the Temple, no longer able to function properly, was destroyed. The job of every generation is to undergo a thorough spiritual revival, so that we may merit being fully restored to our Land and to the Divine service in a new Temple, speedily in our day.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayikra

Although in the last parshah, Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting “because a cloud rested on it and the Glory of Gd filled the Mishkan”, in this parshah Gd prepares the Children of Israel to enter the Tent of Meeting by describing to them how the offerings shall be prepared and offered. The Hebrew word for “offerings” is “korbanot”, which means “draw near” — the purpose of offerings is to draw near Gd.

Moses is already near Gd, near enough so he is aware when Gd speaks to him and commands him to give the Children of Israel, who at Mt Sinai were afraid of being near to Gd’s Voice, guidelines for offerings so they may lose their fear and draw near.  The offerings were not anything Gd needed or needs: Gd is Full, Eternally. The purpose of the offerings is to raise the living of giving in our lives so that we live not for ourself alone but live in the Spirit of Gd and through giving, open ourselves to Wholeness, Oneness, in which the duality of Gd and us is enjoyed as a story, a play, a play in which we become aware that we are Oneness playing all the parts, including Director, Author, Camermen, Audience, Stage Crew, Reviewers.

Although in this parshah, the korbanot are physical — animals and meal — in our time we offer prayer, recitation of passages from Torah, Talmud and Mishnah, instead. As part of the Morning Service, we recite passages from Torah, Talmud and Mishnah that describe the commandments regarding the five offerings: burnt/elevation, grain, peace, sin and trespass offerings.

The physical korbanot, taking the burnt offering as illustrative, were to be unblemished, offered willingly. The same is true of the prayers we say during Arising, Morning, Midday, Evening and Bedtime: the same is true of every aspect of our life: we draw near to Gd when we willingly live with the purpose of connecting to Gd, doing our best to make our behavior, our thoughts, our feeling unblemished.

In addition to these prayers/passages, our Morning Service contains many prayers that are not generally what we often think of as prayer: requests that Gd does something for us. Rather, they are blessings, statements of the Blessed Nature of Gd. We draw near to Gd by reminding ourselves of Gd’s Nature and thus drawing near to Gd.

One sign of our drawing near to Gd is the increase of Joy in our life — happiness that is independent of any gain, that remains steady and growing even during what seems to be loss.

Put it another way, one sign of our drawing near to Gd is the growth of Love in our life — Love that flows through us, around us to all, Love that enables us to directly experience our neighbor as our Self.

We are making progress! Faces of our congregation and our community shine with Joy and Love.

Thank you, Gd!

Baruch HaShem