Because of a heavy travel schedule this week we study the first two sections of Hebrew Scripture’s third book: the Book of Leviticus. We read Parashat VaYikra (Leviticus 11-5:29) and Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:39). There is no doubt that the Book of Leviticus contains some of the Hebrew’s Bible’s loftiest ideals. The book also has some of Hebrew Scriptures most challenging readings. It is in this book that we read of the ideals expressed in the holiness code and of many of the details found the kosher eating (dietary) laws.
These two first weekly sections are highly challenging to the modern reader. In them, we learn about the laws of various forms of animal sacrifice. Each category of crime required a different form of sacrifice and the law distinguished between crimes (sins) committed inadvertently and crime (sins) committed on purpose. The modern reader can understand these ‘sacrifices’ better if we realize that in a theocracy such as Moses’ Israel, there was no distinction between a crime and a sin, an offense against G-d was an offense against man and vice versa.
The second parashah, Parashat Tzav continues in the same vein. In this parashah, we see a distinction between types of punishment (offerings). From the modern perspective, the key point is that different forms of sin (crimes) required different punishments (offerings). The Bible then recognizes that human beings fail, that punishment is a necessary tool of society and that the punishment must be appropriate to the crime.
While we no longer practice animal sacrifice we can understand the theory behind the system. Human beings were not meant to live alone, that they need rules to regulate them and that we need to be grateful for each day of life that is granted to us. Leviticus understands that life is a divine gift.
While we have no control over when we are born and minimal control over when we die, life is defined by what we do between these two points in time. 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 we learn that these terms may have nothing to do with our physical state but rather with our mental state, the state of our spiritual health. These two sections are united by the idea that holiness is a combination of attitude and actions. Good intentions are fine, but they only come alive when we actualize them. In a like manner, crimes are crimes no matter how we spin our intentions. Actions may or may not result in goodness, but without a sense of purpose, they are simply random stabs in life. These two sections then teach us that holiness comes about when we combine the two. 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 is no easy task; rather it is a challenge that transcends time and place. How do you meet this challenge?
Youtubes of the week:
Two Songs for Passover:
Here is how the Technion’s Engineers do Passover:
Every Year People Ask for a Passover Chametz List.
To help you navigate the holiday here is a good partial list. “Chametz” is classified as:
- all foods made with leavening
- The following grains
- corn (precise definition unclear)
- What is called Kintiyot? These include:
- Green Beans
- Foods derived from the above such as Pasta, Beer, and Whisky
Sephardic Jews and now many Ashkanzic Jews reject the idea of the Kiniyot and tend to eat:
- Green Beans
- Sesame Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
Most US Jews eat peanuts and peanut butter and matzah has become part of the diet.
In the Diaspora this year, Passover’s laws go into effect around midday March 30 and last until the sighting of three stars on April 7th. In Israel, the holiday ends on the evening of the 6th.