Leviticus 1:1- 5:26 Peace, Sin and Guilt 16.03.13
Why do Jewish children begin their Biblical Jewish studies with Leviticus? On the surface, Leviticus is a total bore for children. Once you try to analyze the text, you have to conclude that the concepts must go way over their head. Further, if the book is a set of instructions for priests (Torat Kohanim), why should a youngster be interested? In any case, rabbinic Judaism prevails and there is no longer a Jewish religion centred on temple rituals, so what relevance could such a book have as an introduction to contemporary Judaism? Why would any child be interested in different categories of sacrifice, initiation rites into the priesthood and the horrific consequences if you make a mistake?
Leviticus is an emotionally disturbing book. A child has not yet acquired the censors and indirection, the inhibitions and redirections. The direct even involuntary attraction towards a powerful emotional response provides the power of the text. It is not that the children are pure in being without sin but pure in the sense of their openness to another, especially empathy for the emotions of the other.
Leviticus is about such openness. "Vayikra" means that God called. Moses is called. We as inheritors of the Mosaic credo will eventually be called. We are not called from heaven. The voice calling us comes from midst of the Tent of Meeting. In the Maori community that I will discuss at the end in reference to the movie, The Whale Rider, the call comes from the spirit of the whale. We all have a calling. Depending on our community, that calling can originate from different sources. Children have to learn to listen for their calling.
|1. And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying,||
א.וַיִּקְרָא אֶל משֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר:
And what are we called to do?
|2. Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice.||
ב.דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אָדָם כִּי יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַיהֹוָה מִן הַבְּהֵמָה מִן הַבָּקָר וּמִן הַצֹּאן תַּקְרִיבוּ אֶת קָרְבַּנְכֶם:
We are called to speak to the children of Israel.That includes real children as well as adults who still behave as children. Why and how do we speak to the children first about sacrifice?
The first lesson we are required to impart is in the form of a horror movie. A man, adam not ish, a representative of all humanity rather than a specific human, comes near so the child can witness. What is sacrificed on the high altar before the temple? Preferably an unblemished bull, but possibly a sheep or goat or even a turtle dove. In every case, killing, dissection and creating a bloody mess are involved. There is a slaughter of the animal, splashing its blood on the altar, skinning the animal, dissecting the animal into sections, piling the parts in a particular order with the head and fat on top of the wood so the fat drips down and sizzles in the fire. When the innards have been cleaned, washed and piled with the other parts of the animal and the hind legs on top, we then watch the face and eyes and mouth of the animal consumed first by the flames as the animal is burnt until there are only ashes left. It is a scene designed to arouse fear in the child.
This type of sacrifice is called a burnt offering. We can capture its meaning by going back to the first sacrifice, Cain and Abel providing a burnt offering to the Lord. Cain was a farmer. He offered the best of his labour, grain, as a sacrifice. But God chose to recognize Abel’s animal sacrifice. In a jealous rage, because the sacrifice of the best products of his labours for God were not recognized, Cain killed Abel. God preferred to recognize the nomadic way of life of the shepherd even as humanity was adopting to a sedentary agricultural way of life. The irony is that God’s recognition was not for that which was to be valued as historically the superior way of life, but as the way of life that had to be sacrificed to give way to agricultural societies.
The animal sacrifice is now given not for its recognition as having a higher status, but for atonement, for acknowledging the sacrifice and loss of a way of life that once was and is no more. There must be a sacrifice to atone for a way of life that no longer exists, that has gone up in smoke, and now persists and exists only in symbolic and token forms. God requires that we recognize and atone for the ways of life that have been sacrificed in the civilizing of humanity. Through the rituals of sacrifice, the community symbolically preserves its past. The rituals provide the songline for community survival.
How does the child experience this? A child would certainly not grasp the symbolic significance. I am convinced that this is where fear and trembling are appropriate and properly describe reactions that could be expected on first seeing such a truly awesome sight, the burnt, or more accurately, ascendant offering upon the high altar. What ascends to heaven entirely in a cloud of smoke is no more on earth and in history.
In Ezra 3.3, even in the face of enemies, especially when surrounded by enemies, the burnt offering must be made to teach a community that it is fighting for its way of life. If death from the enemy is to be feared, the greater fear is the existential one, that the way of life of your community and society will be wiped from the face of the earth and from history. "Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices." Children of Israel are instilled very early in life with existential fear.
Animal and grain sacrifices are no longer made competitively side-by-side, but in succession. Ch. 2 begins with the depiction of the meal sacrifices, a fire rather than a burnt offering, an acknowledgement that bread must be made and food cooked by applying heat. Except for Shavuot, leavened bread is not sacrificed on the altar. It goes on the table. Only unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, is sacrificed. As chapter, verse 11 states, "No meal offering that you sacrifice to the Lord shall be made [out of
anything] leavened. For you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke any leavening or any honey, [as] a fire offering to the Lord." We keep the tastiest and best now for our own consumption.
|1. And if a person brings a meal offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil over it and place frankincense upon it.||
א.וְנֶפֶשׁ כִּי תַקְרִיב קָרְבַּן מִנְחָה לַיהֹוָה סֹלֶת יִהְיֶה קָרְבָּנוֹ וְיָצַק עָלֶיהָ שֶׁמֶן וְנָתַן עָלֶיהָ לְבֹנָה:
|2. And he shall bring it to Aaron’s descendants, the kohanim, and from there, he [the kohen] shall scoop out his fistful of its fine flour and its oil, in addition to all its frankincense. Then, the kohen shall cause its reminder to [go up in] smoke on the altar; [it is] a fire offering [with] a pleasing fragrance to the Lord.||
ב.וֶהֱבִיאָהּ אֶל בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֲנִים וְקָמַץ מִשָּׁם מְלֹא קֻמְצוֹ מִסָּלְתָּהּ וּמִשַּׁמְנָהּ עַל כָּל לְבֹנָתָהּ וְהִקְטִיר הַכֹּהֵן אֶת אַזְכָּרָתָהּ הַמִּזְבֵּחָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַיהֹוָה:
For all fire offerings, we add salt. For of the three parts of earth – wilderness, settled areas and the sea – the settled areas increasingly displace the wilderness. But what of the sea? The sea too, even though it was never a way of life, once covered all of earth and had to recede. The sea must be used in service to settled society. Thus, with all offerings, salt must be added. Salt becomes the symbol of the Covenant. In order to have settled life, the sea had to recede. Civilization proceeds by pushing back the subterranean life, the life of the sea, and expanding human settlements of the land and bringing as much as possible into the light of day. Salt, the best preservative known in the ancient world, allows food to be preserved and put away in storage. The salt of the Covenant allows that which is preserved and stored away to be raised up. That is why Israel was given to King David and the children of Israel to be preserved and raised up. (Chronicles 13:5).
"And every sacrifice of your meal offerings salt with salt and do not banish salt, the Covenant of your G-d from on your meal offerings. Place salt on every one of your offerings…" (Leviticus 2:13)
"All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for the Lord I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time. It shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for you and for your offspring as well. (Numbers 18:19)
Once the dialectic of the Cain and Abel sacrifices are re-enacted, three other sacrifices are depicted – the peace offering, the guilt offering and the sin offering. Chapter 3 begins with the peace offering. In analyzing the peace offering, we must ask in what sense are we both drawn closer to death and enriching our experience of life? What is being substituted for and lost through the sacrifice? In what sense is the offering an offering of oneself? In one sense, in a peace offering, we give up very little.
Not much of a sacrifice! You simply put on the altar what you would not eat anyway – fat and blood. The rest is divided between the priest and the sacrificer. We are not talking about giving to express gratitude for a benefit gained. Nor for a benefit expected! The zevach sh’lamim or "sacrifice of well-being" was a voluntary animal offering, sometimes to fulfill a vow. (Leviticus 3:1-17) What is given up and surrendered is excess. The fat is burned on the altar. It must not only substitute for but be inclusive of what is excessive. By giving of ourselves in acts of charity and benevolence we gain a sense of who we are as humble beings. For we identify then with all who are humble. In that way we come to peace with ourselves and with every other member of humanity. If fear accompanies a burnt offering, happiness and contentment accompany a peace offering.
Historically, in Judaism, Judah ha-Levi exemplified the giving and the product of a peace offering. The sages taught that none drew so near to God as Judah. By giving up the work that defines you for a day of rest, by substituting prayer and study and worship for blood, sweat and tears, we gain a new love, Shabat. "On Friday doth my cup o’erflow, What blissful rest the night shall know, When, in thine arms, my toil and woe Are all forgot, Sabbath my love!" The highest reward for the peace sacrifice is Shabat itself. "Bring fruits and wine and sing a gladsome lay, Cry, ‘Come in peace, O restful Seventh day!’"
In chapter 4 of Leviticus, we are introduced to the sin offering. Note the emphasis on "unintentionality". The sin is inadvertent. But the offering is not; it is an obligatory one.
|1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,||
א.וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:
|2. Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a person sins unintentionally [by committing one] of all the commandments of the Lord, which may not be committed, and he commits [part] of one of them||
ב.דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר נֶפֶשׁ כִּי תֶחֱטָא בִשְׁגָגָה מִכֹּל מִצְוֹת יְהֹוָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵעָשֶׂינָה וְעָשָׂה מֵאַחַת מֵהֵנָּה:
|3. If the anointed kohen sins, bringing guilt to the people, then he shall bring for his sin which he has committed, an unblemished young bull as a sin offering to the Lord.||
ג.אִם הַכֹּהֵן הַמָּשִׁיחַ יֶחֱטָא לְאַשְׁמַת הָעָם וְהִקְרִיב עַל חַטָּאתוֹ אֲשֶׁר חָטָא פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר תָּמִים לַיהֹוָה לְחַטָּאת:
What happens if the children of Israel unintentionally sin? The text immediately jumps to the koanim sinning and bringing guilt to the people. Only later do we return to the sins of the community committed out of ignorance. Are the people punished for unintentional sins? Can the koanim commit unintentional sins? The text is clear. The koanim and the community as a whole bear a greater responsibility for sins of ignorance than any individual; a young male bull must be sacrificed.
|14. When the sin which they had committed becomes known, the congregation shall bring a young bull as a sin offering. They shall bring it before the Tent of Meeting.||
יד.וְנוֹדְעָה הַחַטָּאת אֲשֶׁר חָטְאוּ עָלֶיהָ וְהִקְרִיבוּ הַקָּהָל פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר לְחַטָּאת וְהֵבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ לִפְנֵי אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד:
The animal parts are not consumed nor even burnt on the altar but taken outside the camp to be consumed by fire. Depending on your status in the community, there are different expectations and different levels of sin offerings.
Finally, we have the guilt offering. It differs from the sin offering in that, although the actions may appear inadvertent, whether it is the neglect of the Catholic Church or the Canadian government to have protected children sexually and otherwise abused in the aboriginal school system or the interpersonal digs and actions that upset our partners as indirect ways of expressing our anger, they are actions that hurt another, actions that we can be conscious of and correct. Our secular society relies on therapeutics instead of ritual outlets to deal with guilt and anger. Our society lacks rituals to deal with inadvertent sins and sadness when it blankets the whole community.
Last night I once again watched the beautiful and very moving movie, The Whale Rider, the 2002 film directed by Niki Caro about a young Maori girl of eleven years old in a Maori patriarchal community on the east coast of New Zealand. It is the strongest feminist film I have ever seen. The Whangara Maori date their history back through many generations to a single ancestor, Paikea, who travelled to New Zealand by canoe but before his arrival, the canoe capsized and he was saved by riding to shore on the back of a whale. The chiefs have always been the first-born sons of Paikea’s direct descendants. The eldest son of Koro, the leader of the community, left New Zealand to pursue an art career in Germany. He left behind his daughter, Pai, who has to break through the melancholy that hangs like a heavy cloud over the community to eventually prove, against all Koro’s inherited beliefs, that she, Pai, is the one destined to inherit the leadership of the community and bring it back to the joys, celebrations and love of a way of life that need not be lost by modernity. Pai heard her call.
Only after the community has overcome the sin of ignorance to break through the collective melancholia, only once they as individuals and a community have broken through the various degrees of guilt over self-indulgence, bad habits (smoking and lack of exercise), to not caring sufficiently for one another and the next generation, only once they have broken through once again to re-connect with their animal spirits, the whales, who in the breakdown of spirit have beached themselves on shore, only when they once again re-engage in a form of peace offering, can the community truly enjoy and celebrate the equivalent of a shared communal meal and the fire offering to the divine.