Pesakh is almost here -- and what a Pesakh. Starting on Motzei Shabbat, Saturday night. I'll talk more about that next week -- look for an earlier d'var so I can get ready, too.
We read this week about sacrifices and similar activities and the word Pesakh even refers to the paschal lamb. Perhaps it is appropriate that an email just came in that is an alert on one of my doglists -- it is about puppy farms. Those who know me personally know that dogs and other animals are very important to me. If one talks to me at home, the odds are very great that you will hear at least some of the 4-legged 'kids' in my house. I guess the idea of a puppy farm is particularly offensive to me. Responsible dog breeding is NOT a for profit activity -- in order to make money at it, one would have to do many things that are not in the best interest of the dogs. (And not do important things that ARE in the animal's best interest.)
The email alert that came was about a puppy farm in Kansas that is run by a family. They were recently given funds by SteerInc, a ministry group that uses an interesting approach to making money. They provide funds to 'farmers/ranchers' to raise 'crops/herds', paying initial investment and ongoing expenses. When the designated products are sold, the money raised goes to SteerInc (website www.steerinc.com) for donations to Evangelical missions (less expenses). Quite an interesting concept.
However, funding a puppy farm (and I'll forward the email alert to anyone requesting) for any reason is a concern. The article quoted says that the animals will be bred twice a year (for how long and starting at what age?) so that puppies can be sold as soon as they reach 8 weeks. At least they are waiting until 8 weeks, the minimum age at which a puppy should be placed. The particular farm praised in this article has "sixty-five dogs of ten different breeds. And they always have puppies." Somehow, I'll bet there are 45-50 females in that 65. If you estimate four puppies average per litter, twice a year, that works out to somewhere around 360-400 puppies per year. How many of those really get placed in loving homes where the new owners are trained (by the seller) and qualified to raise a young puppy? I find it hard to interview the few homes that get one of my rescues each year. I cannot imagine the time it would take to place 300+ puppies properly in one year. And what about the mother dogs? Breeding them every season is simply cruel and unhealthy.
And if they are raised in less than ideal conditions and placed in unqualified homes, how many of those puppies end up at rescue facilities (if they are lucky) or worse?
I did not mean to go on like this, but I was always taught by my parents that we are here to take care of the animals in the world, not to abuse them. If we cause them to multiply, we are taking responsibility for their lives and well-being. I am not against people raising funds to support the activities they believe in regardless of my take on their activities, but I do have a problem if animals are abused in their efforts.
1. Parsha details: Lev 1:1-5:26 ( tri 4:27-5:26 ) [ Haftorah Isaiah 43:21-44:23 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Sacrifices. Different aspects with several tones. Not something we need to be concerned about today -- or is it? Ahhhh. That's the rub. You see, we do still have relationships with animals and we do still make and need to make sacrifices.
So am I suggesting we "go back to those days"? Sometimes, when I hear someone telling me that the 'ideal' is to 'want' to do the sacrifices, I have to consider the speaker. What does he/she mean? What part of the old ritual do they 'want' to do? And what parts does he/she feel "can't" be done today?
The key to the sacrifices is not that an animal was killed or that some flour was burned. And it isn't even that the Temple, magnificent and holy as it was, is no more in the world of Asiyah (doing, our daily world).
Going back to what I often say, there is, in fact, nothing superfluous in Torah. So what does this ancient Parsha out of what was once called Torat haCohanim (Torah of the Priests) have to do with today? Lots.
First, Torah has told us that we are to be "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." (Ex 19:6) -- so even though Aharon and family did the sacrificial work in those days, it relates to all of us.
But let's look first at the sacrifices themselves. They are not the atonement that some might think. They, in fact, occur AFTER repentance and AFTER restitution. In fact, we are taught that if the repentance and return are not sincere, the offering is not accepted. Perhaps one of the purposes of the offering was to show others that the repentance WAS sincere. (And I imagine it would have been -- would YOU risk having everyone see that your offering was not accepted?)
And this brings us to another aspect of the sacrifices. This was a ritual instituted at a time when people were sacrificing all kinds of things for just about anything. At least for the children of Yisra'el, there was a sacred meaning and intention associated with these acts. After all, the One who is hardly needs a sacrifice. She does not need to be appeased, etc. So once again, like with Aharon's garments, these are for the people. God is approaching us and making the Divine approachable.
As my father used to say, can you imagine explaining the big bang and atomic theory to a simple shepherd? Not that they weren't bright enough -- they surely were. But it wasn't their everyday language. But sacrifices and sweet savors were. Everybody did them, we just did them for a serious purpose. And all of our laws deal with kindness and lack of suffering both for people and for the animals.
And if you think we no longer kill animals for these kinds of reasons, have you ever eaten a steak or a hamburger? I am not a vegetarian (yet), but I do recognize that an animal had to die to provide that meat on the plate before me. And I recognize that the distance between the Israelite bringing the sacrifice to the Temple (where they ate of it) and my backyard barbecue (which does send its smoke to the heavens) is not that far.
I wonder how often I would barbecue meat if I thought my neighbors could see the sincerity of my t'shuva by how the smoke behaved.
And what kind of sins and transgressions require an offering -- ah, another, even deeper aspect. "Or if a soul swears, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatever it is that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it is hidden from him; when he knows of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these." or "If a soul sins, and commits a trespass against the Lord, and lies to his neighbor in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or has deceived his neighbor; Or have found that which was lost, and lies concerning it, and swears falsely; in any of all these that a man does, sinning in it;" And several other "sins" and "trespasses" that are as subtle and not so subtle.
For there are a few key aspects to these "sins" -- they have to do with how we treat ourselves, our God-Selves and our neighbors. Notice that a key part of the guilt is in knowing that we have committed the sin.
The sin about swearing is about taking an oath, whether that oath is to do good or evil -- the oath is the issue, not the content of the oath. The Hebrew word here is Tishava' and the Torah note connects that with speaking it clearly from one's lips, so the clear pronouncement is also a key. The Hebrew word is quite similar to sava', to be satisfied (as in v'achal'ta, v'savata, uv'rach'ta). Another reading that I get from this connection, especially with Torah's gentle wording of "and it is hidden from him" to mean he didn't do what he swore to do, is "If a soul is satisfied to speak out clearly, either to do evil or to do good, if it is with a [clearly spoken] oath, and the deed is not done and [the soul] knows this, [the soul] is guilty by this." Or in other words, don't promise what you cannot deliver, whether good or bad, especially where others can hear it and might therefore act on your words.
Torah is always concerned with anguish we cause others and ourselves, because anguish hides the One from us -- and thereby hides us from the One and from each other. And this certainly is the theme of the next sin cited. And causing anguish may come from our action -- or from our inaction. Either way, if we are the cause of someone's aguish, we bear the guilt. This concept is extended by another pasuk: "And if a soul sins, and hears the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of it; if he does not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity."
Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil doesn't cut it -- we are responsible if we know what should be done and don't do our part. But we must carry this out carefully and with compassion. I was taught this past week that how we say something is as important as what we say. Kindness and consideration of all must be a guideline. And ownership of our errors and the T'shuva that our failings require, once we are made aware of them, is what this Parsha is really all about. And if we see someone erring, we are to help them discover their error so that they may indeed learn and improve.
So to those who have helped me learn as I have grown -- I thank you, because your actions allowed to come closer to One who forgives and accepts our offerings, even in these days.
3. Some Observations
First Parsha of the third book, Vayik'ra. An interesting side light is that there is a small aleph at the end of Vayik'ra. We are told that is because at one time, when a word ends in the same letter as the next word starts with, they sometimes share a letter. And at one time, there was even less distinction between the words of the Torah as letters of one word were run up against the letters of the next word.
If you have never looked at the Torah script, please do so. It is different from the Hebrew we see in a siddur. IT is even more than just note having notes or vowels, it is even in the special script that we use. Now we did not always use this script. If you look at the Dead Sea scrolls (which you can see on the Israel Museum website), you will see an earlier style of lettering. And these scrolls even have evidence of yet a older script.
I believe it is easier to read (and leyn) Torah now than it was when the words were first committed to parchment. I cannot imagine reading Torah if all the words were run one into the other. But what wonderful hidden meanings we could find there..... are they more hidden now? Perhaps.
The sefer and the Parsha start out Vayik'ra el-Moshe - "And [the One] called out to Moshe." WOW. Just imagine hearing Her CALL OUT to you. How would you react?
There are 12 paragraphs in this Parsha -- eight of them start out with V'im - "And if". There are eight lesser breaks in the text and five of these start with V'im. Vay'daber - And he spoke starts two of the beginnings and nefesh - soul starts three. Vayik'ra, of course starts the whole Parsha. The only other starting word is "V'chi" - "And so". The importance of "if'" shows the conditional nature of the matters under discussion in this Parsha -- and isn't that indeed the case with guilt, anguish, t'shuva and forgiveness? There are always conditions and extenuating circumstances -- each case must be judged on its own merits and details. No two situations are identical, but they can be grouped.
So working with our Selves, we must be aware of both the general and the specific. We are always unique individuals with our unique stories with which we must always come to terms -- both with our Selves and with the One. Regardless of the details, the act of T'shuva is the bottom line. We must know our sin and our guilt and only we can answer for it. And in the end, it doesn't matter if we did something by action or by a lack of action, whether we set out to do evil or to do good -- what matters is what we caused. Did we bring our Selves and others closer or did we cause anguish and distancing?
4. Persevering Contraction
This is the first Parsha in the Persevering series. Last week it was about expansion. Now we deal with contraction. Contraction really makes the Divine more visible to us.
Or perhaps it is about perspective. Remembering to look beyond ourselves at the bigger picture. The familiar forest/trees issue. When the forest contracts, the trees loom smaller and smaller and the forest itself comes into focus. When we simmer down, contract, from our ego flares, we can see more clearly what we have really done (or not done). And so we need contraction to maintain our balance. We need to step back and assess. For if we do not contract from our Selves and our egos, He will.
Another of those wonder-full paradoxes. If we contract and diminish our egos, we will be able to approach and become closer. And if... we handle one situation at a time, on its own merits, contracted from everything else, we will see it more clearly and the impossible becomes not only possible, but manageable. And that is something to persevere.
1. Vayik'ra: The One calling out -- to each of us. What does that sound like, can you hear it? What does it feel like, look like, smell like, taste like? How can we sense it? What about our calling out? Does She hear? Does He feel it?
2. Sacrifice, Kor'ban: The root of sacrifice (QRB) also means to come close, approach. What can we offer today and what do we need to do before we make an offering. Are our prayers an offering? Is conserving resources an offering? How about planting seeds from the fruits we eat? Food to the hungry? How can these offerings bring us closer to the One? These were food offerings. Food is what sustains us. What offerings of sustaining can we make?
3. V'nis'lakh lahem "and it shall be forgiven them": What does it mean to receive Her forgiveness? Does it end our guilt? What does repentance do? Does forgiveness change punishment? What are the requirements for being forgiven? What changes?
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved