September 20, 2019
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Parshat Vayikra featuring Judaism Unbound


Lex (Voice 1): “Darn! This new toaster burnt my toast again!” Dan (Voice 2): “Wow, that’s so Jewish.” Lex: What are you talking about? How is burning toast Jewish? Dan: The Torah is full of stories and descriptions
of the Israelites burning things up — bulls, sheep, goats, doves, and even flour — as
a way of connecting to God and to each other. Your burnt toast reminds me of Vayikra, which
is the Torah portion about all kinds of burnt offerings the Israelites used to make. Lex: That seems incredibly strange. Burning stuff? To connect to God? I’ve never seen Jews doing anything like
that. Dan: That’s absolutely right. Jews haven’t done any of that for 2,000
years. Some of what the Torah talks about are holidays
and rituals that Jews still practice today. But other parts, like Vayikra, talk about
things that they used to do, but can’t do or don’t do anymore. Lex: Like burnt offerings. It’s hard to relate to it, though. It still doesn’t seem very Jewish to me. Dan: And I’m sure we wouldn’t seem very
Jewish to them. Imagine for a second that Moses or one of
his Israelite friends took a kind of…time warp…into the 21st century. He would see Jews sitting in a building, singing
prayers, and reading the Torah. And he’d probably ask the same question
that you asked me: What’s Jewish about this? Lex: Really? But I always thought synagogues and prayers
and reading the Torah were the absolute most Jewish things ever! Dan: Many of us think of them that way. But just as the ancient sacrifices feel foreign
to us, synagogues and prayers would seem strange to our ancestors. Lex: Fair enough. But if their world is so different from ours,
what’s the point of even reading Torah portions like Vayikra? If it has nothing to do with our lives, why
bother with it? Dan: Let’s do the time warp…again! The rituals Vayikra describes are very different
from what we’re used to, but the big ideas they are trying to get at can still give us
things to think about. Lex: OK. Tell me about the burnt toast. Dan: Well, if an Israelite committed a sin,
even by accident, they had to burn a goat or a sheep as a sacrifice to God, to apologize
for the mistake they made. But if you couldn’t afford a whole goat
or sheep, you could bring just a little bit of grain, called a meal offering, and burn
it up instead. Kind of like your toast. That way nobody is prevented from connecting
to God just because they don’t have as much wealth. Lex: Yeah, that is still such an important
idea today. It’s not about how fancy or expensive our
gifts are, but the intention we have in giving them. Dan: Right! And here’s another one: When the High Priest,
who was a leader of the Israelites, messed up, he had to apologize not just for his own
mistake, but on behalf of the whole community that followed him. He had to bring an entire bull as a sacrifice
— much more expensive than a goat — and apologize for leading his community astray. Lex: That’s another good one. In our time, just like in theirs, our actions
affect other people. Our mistakes can ripple out and affect our
broader community. And when our leaders make mistakes, they can
have really bad consequences for the whole world. Dan: Exactly. Lex: I think I’m starting to understand
what you mean. What we think of as Jewish now might have
been totally foreign to our ancestors back then, and what they thought of as Jewish then
would be totally foreign to us now. Dan: But the connection is that the key ideas
and values still resonate today, even the burnt offerings. We just need to translate them a bit: We can
learn about the traditions of the past, and then shape new traditions that are about the
same values. Lex: That’s a really good point. I’m never gonna look at toast the same way
again!

Otis Rodgers

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