Friday, March 23, 2007


It's almost Shabbat, and this is the first of many Shabbats that I get to observe and cherish. Amen!

This week begins Leviticus and many of what were deemed laws for the Kohanim (priests). Nearly half of the 613 mitzvot are found in this book! The parshah discusses sacrifices and rituals, including offerings for sins, peace, meal and etc. Again, I'm more or less transcribing notes I took while scanning the Torah at my new coffee digs. (The computer died, else I would have typed it up yesterday.)

+ The comments at the beginning of Leviticus stresses the difference between sacrifice in most Near Eastern myths compared to that of the Jews. Sacrifices were common, of course, but the difference is that in most traditions, sacrifices were made to give strength and power to the beings worshiped by others. For the Israelites, though, sacrifices were meant as devotion. There was no conception that G-d was made more powerful by the sacrifices of the Israelites.

+ People often ask me why I don't eat pork or shellfish. Or why I keep other certain mitzvot that might seem archaic or outdated. Etz Chayim sums it up pretty accurately regarding the rituals we find throughout Leviticus, and why we should consider and keep them even today when the meanings might escape us immediately:
"Rituals, including prescribed prayers, tell us what to do and say at times when we cannot rely on our own powers of inspiration to know what to do or say."
+ A question: Where/When/How/Why did animal sacrifice come to be? I'm curious why animal sacrifice became a logical need or practice for people. How it developed as such a wide-spread ritual. I mean, it seems absolutely obscene to modernity ... so how did it develop in the mind? I'm going to have to research animal sacrifice ... for I am curious!

+ Furthermore on ritual and sacrifice and why it should apply even today, Etz Chayim says: "Each generation must find new ways to make G-d present in new situations that the Torah could not have foreseen." It goes this way with just about anything ... we adapt, we grow.

+ Lev. 1:9 -- There's a curious comment on this line about the odor of the sacrifices being pleasant in G-d's sight. Midrash states that "G-d smells the odor ... of the burning flesh of Jewish martyrs ..." (Gen. R 34:9). The comments point out that this is sadly ironic, considering the events of the Holocaust. Again, something I want to look further into ... to see exactly when the Midrash was written.

+ Among the sacrificial rules ... "kol helev l'adonai" or, "all fat is the lord's." This goes along with the command that we are to not consume blood or fat. I find it curious that blood libel myths were so popular considering this very simple biblical command.

+ Lev. 4:1 -- within the purification offering (hattat):
"The purpose of the hattat ... was to acquaint the donor with one's own more generous side, so that instead of seeing oneself as weak and rebellious, a person could say 'sometimes I am weak and rebellious, but that is not the real me. Often I can be generous and obedient.' It was an opportunity to clear one's conscience, not a penalty for having done wrong."
It's related to Yom Kippur, when we atone for our sins. There's also mention of a brief period of confession, though confession has never been a part of Judaism and rather is the hallmark of Catholicism.

+ In reference to Lev. 4:2, Rambam says "It is in the soul that the impulse to do wrong begins." When I read this I was curious if it was an endorsement of inherent evil by the Rambam. There's the great debate of nature versus nurture and of course it includes the discussion of whether we learn to be evil or if it is within us upon conception. Again ... research!

+ One of the instances for sacrifice was in the instance of committing a mitzvot, but doing it in such a way that it is done wrong. In response, Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev thus said that "sometimes it is possible to perform a mitzvah in such an improper manner that it would have been better not to do it at all." I thought this was amusing ... but of course it's true. If you don't know what you're doing, you best step back and figure it out, lest you miscommit the mitzvah!