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This Week's The Torah Portion: "Vayikra"


This week we begin the third book of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus, known in Hebrew as "Vayikra".

Leviticus was originally intended as an instruction manual for the tribe of Kohen, the priestly tribe of ancient Israel. Its opening subject is sacrificial worship: Even as their pagan neighbors worshipped the gods of nature by means of sacrifices, so did the ancient Israelites. But that is where the similarities between the two sacrificial practices ended: For whereas Israel's neighbors offered up human beings to their gods, the Israelites put an abrupt end to that practice; and whereas Israel's neighbors worshipped idols, representing the different gods of nature, the Israelites worshipped the one invisible Author of creation.

But perhaps the most revolutionary difference between ancient Israel's sacrificial system and that of its pagan neighbors may be found in an introductory verse to Leviticus: "...If any person among you wishes to offer up a sacrifice ..." The rabbis of the Talmud inferred from this verse that anyone's sacrifice was acceptable in G-d's Temple: one offered by a Hebrew as well as one offered by a non-Hebrew! This unprecedented allowance represented a breathtaking leap in consciousness! It meant that for the first time in human history, there was a civilization that regarded all people as brothers and sisters, equally welcome in the same one temple. Hundreds of years later, Isaiah would reinforce the universal message contained in those words in a verse emblazoned on many synagogue walls today: "Thus says the Lord: My House is a House of prayer for all people!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus

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