Because last week we studied the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester) this week we catch up by combining the first two sections of Hebrew Scripture’s third book: the Book of Leviticus. The first weekly section is called: Parashat VaYikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:29) and the second is: Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:39. The Book of Leviticus contains some of the Bible’s most difficult sections to read and understand and also some of the Bible’s loftiest ideals. It is in this book that we read the practical and the philosophical, sections dealing with great details (laws of kashrut) and of lofty ideals (the holiness codes). It is as if the book is saying to us, that ideals expressed in a vacuum are merely ungrounded ideas floating in the air and details without ideas become bureaucratic nightmares, both are necessary.
In these two first weekly sections of Leviticus, we learn about the laws of various forms of animal sacrifice as symbolic compensation for crimes committed. In Leviticus, each category of crime required a different form of sacrifice and the law distinguished between crimes (sins) committed inadvertently and crime (sins) committed intentionally. From Leviticus’ perspective, there was no distinction between a crime against man and a crime (sin) against G-d: to do one would lead the other. From the modern perspective, the point is that different forms of sin (crimes) required different punishments (offerings). The Bible recognizes that human beings fail, that punishment is a necessary tool of society and that punishments must be appropriate to the crime.
Although we no longer practice animal sacrifice we can understand the theory behind the system. Human beings were meant to live in groups and to do so they need rules. Without rules, there is no social order nor social harmony.
Social harmony then was understood to be necessary for a society to survive. Just as a person’s life is defined by what s/he does between the time of his (her) birth and death, so too a society is defined by the way that it translates the philosophical into the practical. Perhaps this is what the text means by the terms “tahor” and “tamey”. These terms are commonly mistranslated as “pure” and “impure”. If we read the text carefully, however, we learn that these two terms might have nothing to do with our physical state but rather with our mental state, the state of our spiritual health.
The ideal of holiness as a combination of thought and actions unites Leviticus’ first two weekly sections. Good intentions only come alive when we put them into practice. The same is true of politics. It is not what our leaders say but what they do that counts. Actions may or may not result in goodness, but without a sense of purpose, they are simply random stabs in life.
These two sections teach us that holiness comes about when we combine the two, the ideal with the practical, the spiritual with how we act in our daily lives. To have only half or none of this formula is to be in a state of “tamey” but when our attitudes and actions come together then we move into a state of “tahor”. This combining of two very separate states of being is no easy task; rather it is a challenge that transcends time and place. How do you translate your good words into actions? Do your intentions become realities or are they merely words?
Youtubes of the week:
In the spirit of the best Purim schpils.
Here is last night in Israel:
Another Funny Purim Song:
Here is a President Trump (almost) retelling the story of Purim. Smile