Category Archives: Leviticus
Vayikrah: BBQ Time You know that summer has arrived when the air is filled with the smell of local barbeques. In Parashat Vayikrah, we learn that God enjoyed the smell of barbeques. Biblical barbeques, or sacrifices, needed to have a “fire of pleasing odor” to God (Vayikra 1: 9). Why did God decide to give Bnai Yisrael the laws of the sacrifices at this point in the Torah? The Midrash in Tanchuma Terumah 8 explains: “God wanted the gold of the tabernacle to atone for the gold that was donated for the golden calf.” While Bnai Yisrael were eager to create a golden calf to worship God, this activity had not been done with directives from God. The sacrifices, however, served as a way to channel communal worship to God on God’s terms. Continue reading
When I was in the tenth grade I had to memorize each step of the sacrifices, from the slitting of the birds to the sprinkling of their blood on the altar. At the time, I found this learning experience to be quite repulsive. I wondered why the Jewish people were commanded to participate in this intricate sacrificial system in the first place. While the steps of the sacrifices listed in Parashat Vayikrah may often appear unpleasant upon first reading, I think that there is a deeper message that we can glean from their details.
Just as we witnessed the installation of a new pope last week, Parashat Tzav describes the details involved in the ordination of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. Fashion plays a major role in the installation of Aharon and his sons. The Torah spends more time discussing the clothing of the priests than of any other biblical personality! Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, was required to wear a breastplate with twelve gem stones, each of which was inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Continue reading
At times, reading through the details of the sacrifices mentioned in the book of Leviticus can be an exhausting exercise. The authors of the book of Midrash entitled Leviticus Rabbah, compiled around the 5th century C.E., recognized that the generations that lived after the destruction of the Second Temple would have difficulties connecting with this outdated ritual. The authors of the Midrashim often used metaphors to help us connect with the sacrificial procedures. Continue reading
In Parashat Shemini, Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu are killed by fire for bringing an “Esh Zarah,” a strange offering, to God. The rabbis utilize several explanations for why Nadav and Avihu received such a harsh decree. The authors of the Sifra, which is halachic Midrash on Vayikrah, explain that since the Torah states that Nadav and Avihu “each took his own censer” (Vayikrah 10:1) this means that they not only acted without consulting their father or Moshe, but that they also acted without seeking advice from one another (Sifra Acharei Mot 1). Continue reading
In the fast paced world that we live in, sometimes we do things a little too fast. In some cases, we may be so eager to reply to an email that our tone is inappropriate or unprofessional. In other cases we may even hit “reply all” with a personal message, that will be broadcast to an entire listserve. This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shemini, states that Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, died because they brought an “Esh Zarah,” a “strange offering” (Leviticus 10:1) to God. Continue reading
Parashat Tazria describes how the mother of a newborn is required to bring sacrifices to God in gratitude for a successful pregnancy. The Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah 14:3 asks: “If a person carries a bag of money with the opening facing downwards, don’t the coins scatter?!” The Midrash responds: “Now the embryo has its place in the mother’s womb, but God guards it so that it should not fall out. Is that not a matter of praise?” Continue reading
This week’s double Torah portion, Parashat Tazria/Metzora, focuses on the laws concerning a “Metzora,” a person with leprosy, as well as the leprosy that spreads on garments and the walls of homes. According to the Midrash in Leviticus Rabbah 16:4, the word “Metzora” represents the words “Motzi Shem Rah,” one who utters evil reports. The rabbis understood the disease of leprosy to be caused by Lashon HaRah, evil speech. Continue reading
Parashat Kedoshim covers many laws that govern the interactions between people. The Parasha states, “Do not go as a talebearer among your people” (Vayikra 19:16). Unlike the saying “sticks and stones may break your bones…” the Torah believes that words can be harmful. A story is told about a student who went to his rabbi to tell him that he felt guilty since he spread gossip about one of his classmates. He asked the rabbi what he could do to make amends.The rabbi told him to go home and to take a pillow and spread its feathers into the wind. Continue reading
Holiness: Coming to a Community Near You – Parashat Kedoshim opens with the famous line of God telling Bnai Yisrael: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). The Torah could have easily stopped there, and left holiness up to our imagination. The entire chapter of Leviticus 19, however, goes on to list different ways in which we can act in holy fashions and bring holiness into our communities.
Working in a school surrounded by Purell dispensers at every corner, it seems that the theme of purity and impurity highlighted in Parashat Emor continues to manifest in modern society. As the Kohanim are the ritual leaders of Bnai Yisrael, the Torah states how it is important for them to be distanced from ritual impurity. Parashat Emor teaches that the Kohanim are forbidden to be in contact with dead bodies except for those of close relatives. The Kohanim are also not permitted to enter a home or an enclosure that contains a dead body. Why were the Kohanim given so many rules about purity? Continue reading
A few months ago the guest list to my Shemini Atzeret dinner was growing quickly as the holiday approached. Even though I had cooked enough chicken to feed twenty, I asked a friend to pick up a pound of turkey, just to be on the safe side. About an hour before candlelighting, my friend stopped by with one pound of chopped turkey, instead of the sliced turkey which I had assumed would be clear from this last minute request. The turkey remains in my freezer to this day. The Midrash in Leviticus Rabbah 28:1 reminds me of this encounter: “If a person buys a pound of meat in the market, how much trouble he must go through, how much anxiety he must suffer until he cooks it! Continue reading
Once every seven years, the Torah forbids any planting, pruning, plowing, or harvesting of the land in Israel. This year-long rest for the land of Israel, which is called the Shmita year, is one of the biblical agricultural commandments described in Parashat Behar that we still observe in modern times. Jewish law explains how all of the fruits and vegetables that grow during the Shmita year possess a level of holiness. Continue reading
Parashat Behar, which focuses on the laws concerning land ownership in Israel, urges Bnai Yisrael to support members of their community in need (Leviticus 25:35-38). The Midrash in Leviticus Rabbah 24:3 extends the need for us to support individuals who are going through tough times to the need for us to take care of our own bodies, which may be in poor conditions. The Midrash states: At the end of a day of studying, Hillel the Elder walked out of the Beit Midrash (house of study) with his students. Hillel the Elder’s students asked him, “Where are you headed?” He answered, “To perform a religious duty.” Continue reading