Yom Shabbat, 23 Av 5779
Saturday, 24 August 2019
Parashat Vayikra 2013

Parashat Vayikra
Rabbi Alan Mann

15 March 2013

Liberal Judaism has, since its inception, been opposed to any form of reintroduction of any form of animal sacrifice or Temple Ritual; yet here in Vayikra we begin a new book of the Torah, which tells us all about this ritual. Not only this Parasha, but also the greater part of the book, of the same name, is concerned with such sacrifices. Are we, therefore to ignore the passage as irrelevant and pass on to something more in keeping with a cosy Judaism, which deals with human rights and equality?

No. Vayikra and animal sacrifice are essential parts of our history and 21st century Judaism ignores it at its peril. They are part of our history and theology. I am not advocating the alteration of Liberal Synagogues to include an area for ritual slaughter and conversion into an abattoir. But I am calling for a new look into the meaning of sacrifice in “those” days and see if the meaning has the same relevance for us today.

At the sacrifice the animal was killed, humanely, and then butchered. Parts of the animal were then burnt on the alter and the rest of the animal was eaten by the people. It was sharing a meal with God. If you look in detail at what was burnt, God appears to have come off second best in the deal, he gets all the fat. This is to help the meat to burn. But the main reason for burning the sacrifice is to convert it into a form acceptable to God – into a sweet smelling savour – which ascends to heaven.

This sharing of a meal with God is a form of communion with God. To share a meal with someone is to show an alliance. Two people go out for a meal to establish a rapport between the couple. One will cook a meal for another, not just to show the cook’s ability, but also to strengthen the relationship. When two businessmen complete a deal, they seal it with a shared meal. So it is that when someone went to the Temple and offered up a sacrifice, it was to strengthen the connection they had with God.

Our almost purely intellectual relationship with God seems to lack the personal rapport, which, our ancestors had. Perhaps a return to sharing a meal with God might bring this back. It was not only animals that were burnt offerings on the alter. A meal offering was also part of the ritual. Now, the Chalah which we use for the Kiddush has already had some dough taken from it and burnt in its making; but as a personal reminder of the Temple ritual, perhaps we could take the first piece of bread which is cut, or torn, from the Chalah and burn it in a candle to remind us.

But there is more to be gleaned from the Parasha, which is relevant today. If you notice, the animal fat is all cut off and burnt so that we do not eat it. Even in those days, we are told not to eat cholesterol producing fat. And you will also note that no horsemeat is to be found among the sacrificial animals.