Thursday, March 21, 2013

Two-Minute Torah: I Didn't Ask for Sacrifices


Almost the entire Book of Leviticus is devoted to details of the sacrificial and priestly rituals.  In our Thursday night class studying the Haftarah for the coming week, we are seeing that sometimes the connection between the Torah portion and the Haftarah really serves in a way to undermine or soften the message of the Torah portion. While this coming Shabbat we read a special Haftarah for the Shabbat before Passover, the normal Haftarah for this portion comes from the book of Jeremiah, and it seems to blatantly contradict not only the Parasha but the Torah as a whole.

Jeremiah 7:22 says :”when I freed your ancestors from the land of Egypt, I did not speak with them or command them concerning burnt offering or sacrifice.” How can this be? Isn’t this entire Parasha, almost all of Leviticus and much of both Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy concerned with the laws of sacrifices?

Abarbanel resolves the seeming contradiction by reading the Haftarah text quite literally. When I freed your ancestors from the land of Egypt I did not command any sacrifices; the command to sacrifice only came after the sin of the Golden Calf. God had originally intended for the people of Israel to serve God only via moral and ethical behavior, but he learned through trial and error that human beings need a framework and rituals. Since God had not provided one, the people devised their own, and it did not work out so well.

Ritual, then, is not something we do for God but rather something God provides for us. I am often asked if God really cares about this or that ritual. My answer is, that I don’t know the mind of God, but every mitzvah we observe is an opportunity to draw closer to God.

1 comment:

Tamara Gelbart Jaffe said...

I am going to pass this on to my junior congregation. Thank you.
Tammy