Torah Portion: Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:1-5:26
Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 43:21-44:23
Tonight we begin the third book of the Torah. Interestingly this is the first thing religious children study beginning around three years old. Why do you think they begin here instead of Genesis? It is said that this book teaches them and us two things, how much G-d loves us and our lives matter and have meaning.
This book also teaches us that G-d sees us all as equals in His sight. As we read about the sacrificial system we see immediately that each person was expected, at some time, to feel the need to bring a sacrifice to G-d. It did not matter what their social standing was, from the High Priest to the street sweeper, everyone had the spiritual responsibility at some point to appear before the Father. Not only that, but this was done publically in Jerusalem at the Temple, or here in our book at the Mishkan. If a King had committed some sin of ignorance he came, confessed and offered a sacrifice. If the whole congregation had made a ruling and later found that they had been wrong the priest would bring an offering for them collectively. How often are our sins or short comings confessed publically?
The point being each person, each group, the people as a whole were expected to live by G-d’s word everyday. They understood the concept that G-d was always with them in everything they did. This is a point that each of us needs to grasp in our physical and spiritual lives. G-d is always with us and loves us and has a way for us to live our lives.
Now I would like to look at verse one of the book of Leviticus. In our bibles, most read, “And the L-rd called Moshe, and spoke to him.” In my question to you this week I told you that, in Hebrew, the word L-rd does not appear at the beginning of this verse. In Hebrew it says, “He called to Moshe, and the L-rd spoke with him.” So what does it matter to us? How do most of us picture G-d? I would say most of us might see G-d as Judge, as King, who has demands of His subjects. This verse is telling us something else. I John 4:8 gives us our answer. G-d is love. This verse, here in the beginning of Leviticus, expresses that picture. “He called,” as a parent calls a child, as a husband calls to his wife. G-d loves us. Why do He love us? Just because we are. He does not love us for what we have done, or for how high we have climbed on the ladder of life. He loves us just for being. Here G-d is expressed by the pronoun “He.” Any specific name used would have limited that love. The different names of G-d expresses different qualities of G-d. Here no name is used. He loves us with an unending boundless loves, like the love of a parent for their child.
Our problem sometimes comes in that our experiences in the world tend to tell us that our value is based on our standing in the world or what we have accomplished with our lives. Sometimes that feeling comes from a parent, sometimes from our family or some other person or values that society puts on people. Here G-d is communicating to Moshe and to us that He loves us just for being.
In Isaiah 43:21, which is the first verse of the HafTorah this week, we read these words, “This people I formed for Myself, they recite My praises.” By extension I think each of us is also that person, people that G-d formed for Himself. He formed us for His own pleasure and enjoyment. “They recite My praise.” We praise and acclaim Him not by what we do but through our mere existence. I’m not saying this lets us just sit back. G-d’s will is that we do His will here in this world, feed the hungry, help the widows and orphans, live a life that proclaims Him. But I am saying His love for us is not based on that – on what we have done.
This truth will help us to not be so critical and hard on our fellowman when we consider that like us, G-d loves them just because they are. We get caught up in the same cycle of looking at people by what they have or have not done. G-d loves us and them equally. He may punish us for wasting our time on this earth but it does not cancel His love. Even the Hebrew word for sacrifice, “Korban,” means at its root, “to draw near, to come closer.” So the whole sacrifice system was to be that experience of drawing close to G-d. In my other question about the seeming contradiction of G-d smelling the sweet aroma of the sacrifice and then later in the prophets it speaks of His revulsion from the smell. What are we to make of that? The condition of our heart was the issue. G-d expects His people to live a life worthwhile but in the prophets we see people who were just going through the motions. G-d loved them and was grieved by their hard hearts. He did not stop loving them but was grieved by their actions. We can see in our own lives this same situation come about. Our lives, our hearts are supposed to reflect who we are. This is our praise to the Father.