From Generation to Generation Vayeilech Deuteronomy 31:1-30

From Generation to Generation
Vayeilech Deuteronomy 31:1-30

by

Howard Adelman

This section is read between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Most commentators focus on the need for repentance, the need for confessing one’s sins to God and one’s fellow humans, and to ask for forgiveness of those sins. But the text is largely about passing the torch from the generation of nomads and desert dwellers to those who now would become settlers in the promised land. Nine and one-half of the twelve tribes will cross the Jordan led by Joshua and settle in that land. Moses will not go with them. It is not only because he was very old, but because God said he could not. He was not permitted. His mandate had been taken away and transferred to Joshua.

But who is the greatest sinner by far? And He does not have to confess. For it is a promise that He has also already demonstrated that He can exercise on the east bank of the Jordan River. He now promises that He will do the same after crossing the river. Just as He destroyed the Amorite kings, Og and Sihon and the members of their tribes – men, women and children – so will he do after the Israelites cross the river.

גיְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ ה֣וּא | עֹבֵ֣ר לְפָנֶ֗יךָ הֽוּא־יַשְׁמִ֞יד אֶת־הַגּוֹיִ֥ם הָאֵ֛לֶּה מִלְּפָנֶ֖יךָ וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֑ם יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ ה֚וּא עֹבֵ֣ר לְפָנֶ֔יךָ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהֹוָֽה:
The Lord, your God He will cross before you; He will destroy these nations from before you so that you will possess them. Joshua he will cross before you, as the Lord has spoken.

God promises to wipe out a nation, to kill every man, woman and child still living on the land. God promises to commit the ultimate in ethnic cleansing, genocide. Then the spoils will be divided among the nine-and-a-half other tribes. In accordance with God’s command, the Israelites not only will carry out these acts but they will not be “dismayed” in doing so – וְלֹ֥א תֵחָֽת. However, in spite of how God acts on behalf of the Israelites, in spite of His keeping His promise not to forsake Him, they will forsake God. God Himself makes this prophecy. God will keep His covenant with His people. But they will fail to reciprocate.

This nation will rise up and stray after the deities of the nations of the land, into which they are coming. And they will forsake Me and violate My covenant which I made with them. (31:16)

How will God respond? He already knows and so prophesizes. God will then abandon his people. God will hide His face from them.

My fury will rage against them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will befall them, and they will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our God is no longer among us, that these evils have befallen us? (31:17)

What sin would they commit? They would become idolaters, self-evidently far worse than being a géenocidaire. It is the people’s duty to obey and participate in genocide. Is God punishing his people because they care more about public opinion than God’s will? Have they lost the faith and the courage to carry out His commandments? That is one possibility. I suggest another. God perhaps hides his face because he was ashamed of what He did. He is even more ashamed that he cannot own up to such a horrible deed. So he takes the irresponsible option and blames the other, his own chosen people.

Yom Kippur is not only the time to own up to one’s own sins, but a time of waiting, waiting each year to see if God will confess His own transgressions. That time will not come as long as biblical commentators ignore these damning sections of the text. Rashi, for example, says not a word about the genocide. He elaborates on the meaning of words but cannot even spend a bit of time on a horrendous deed. Rabbis have generally followed that lead and pivot to other much less troubling sections of the Torah.

God as a Jealous Husband – Numbers 4-7

Parshat Naso: God as a Jealous Husband – Numbers 4-7

by

Howard Adelman

The Torah reading is very long tomorrow morning. It begins with counting the 8,580 clergy that were left out of the previous military census. Then the text shifts to what you do with individuals who are unclean, more specifically with those afflicted with tzara’at. (You wondered about the etymological origins of the Yiddish tsuris! Have I got tsuris! Have I got trouble!) Zarah is to scatter, to disperse as when the Israelites were exiled into the galut. Sārāh means suffering from an affliction as a result of adversity and distress. Zarah will be the result. Sārāh is the symptom of the affliction. When you have “a male discharge,” (a “wet dream”?), then you have both scattered your seed as well as displayed a symptom of an affliction.

But then the text gets into kinds of behaviour that can be regarded as unclean, and where evidence is presented and the alleged guilty offence is proven. This is then followed by a section which is not about proven guilt, but suspected guilt without proof. What actions should a husband take when he suspects his wife of committing adultery. He does not know; he is only suspicious. The woman under the cloud is referred to as a sotah. What immediately follows the section on suspected infidelity is a discourse on the laws governing an ascetic, a nazir, an Israelite who grows his or her hair long, foreswears wine and belongs to a community of ascetics, the precursors of the Catholic monastic orders.

My first question is why this seemingly incongruous juxtaposition of topics – a census of the clergy, a depiction of how you treat persons where liquids are seeping from the body and the body is diagnosed as unclean, procedures and punishments for people found guilty of committing a sin (fines), procedures for dealing with suspicions of infidelity, and then the laws governing ascetics. You have to admit this order of what appears to be unrelated topics, or barely related, seems totally weird. Let’s unpack the topics from the clergy census to the rules governing ascetic orders.

The text seems clear enough, at least on the surface. The conduct of the clergy count seems straightforward. The discussion of the condition of one’s skin (tzara means you are afflicted with a skin disease). Having acne means you are suffering from some kind of tzara’at. Leprosy could be another type except that leprosy is contagious. Tzara’at are not. This is important. For the question is why, if someone is not contagious, he (or she?) should be ostracized, should be banished, not only from going to worship at the tabernacle, but from the camp in the Sinai altogether.

Moses and his sister, Miriam, were both stricken with tzara’at. (Exodus 4) God cures Moses. Moses cures Miriam but still quarantines her for a week. It becomes clear in the relevant texts in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers that the symptom tzara characterized by skin rashes, swellings, loss of pigmentation, are signs that you are unclean. Hence, the association of skin conditions that give off pus with wet dreams. Only a Cohen, a priest, can diagnose the condition, reinforcing the notion that the condition is regarded as a symptom of a body afflicted with spiritual uncleanliness. All the detailed distinctions to define the condition from others are of little relevance, for the section is about the unclean and what you do with people who have the condition.

But what happens when you not only have a symptom of spiritual uncleanliness, but are found guilty of sin? Moses in Numbers chapter 5 is instructed to:
6 Tell the children of Israel: When a man or woman commits any of the sins against man to act treacherously against God, and that person is [found] guilty,
7 They shall confess the sin they committed, and make restitution for the principal amount of his guilt, add its fifth to it, and give it to the one against whom he was guilty.

You are fined, with a 20% fee going to the priest. You are not quarantined. You are not ostracized from the community. But look what happens when someone does not give off any symptoms in his or her skin of uncleanliness, is not caught in illicit behaviour and found guilty, but is only an object of suspicion. The text turns to a suspected unclean condition (adultery) where there are no manifestations on the skin. Certainly, or at the very least, it is unlikely that you will be waking up with signs that you had a wet dream. In fact, one might be suspect as an adulterer if your skin was glowing. Clothing, including bedclothes, may also show signs of tzara’at. So can your abode – presumably mold, especially black mold, may be a sign that the house is afflicted. If that is the case, why are gentile homes immune from this affliction? But that is a problem for the Talmud not the Torah. Our problem now is suspected adultery with no evidence to prove guilt.

12 Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: Should any man’s wife go astray and deal treacherously with him,
13 and a man lie with her carnally, but it was hidden from her husband’s eyes, but she was secluded [with the suspected adulterer] and there was no witness against her, and she was not seized.
14 But a spirit of jealousy had come upon him and he became jealous of his wife, and she was defiled, or, a spirit of jealousy had come upon him and he was jealous of his wife, and she was not defiled.

Is the problem that the man is afflicted with jealousy or the problem that the woman may or may not have committed a sin?
15 Then the man shall bring his wife to the kohen and bring her offering for her, one tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall neither pour oil over it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a meal offering of jealousies, a meal offering of remembrance, recalling iniquity.
16 The kohen shall bring her forth and present her before the Lord.

So it appears that the issue is getting at the truth of whether or not the wife committed adultery. The issue is not the man’s jealousy, whether warranted or not. The woman has to drink the “bitter waters.”

18 Then the kohen shall stand the woman up before the Lord and expose the [hair on the] head of the woman; he shall place into her hands the remembrance meal offering, which is a meal offering of jealousies, while the bitter curse bearing waters are in the kohen’s hand.
19 The kohen shall then place her under oath, and say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and you have not gone astray to become defiled [to another] in place of your husband, then [you will] be absolved through these bitter waters which cause the curse.
20 But as for you, if you have gone astray [to another] instead of your husband and have become defiled, and another man besides your husband has lain with you…”
21The kohen shall now adjure the woman with the oath of the curse, and the kohen shall say to the woman, “May the Lord make you for a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord causes your thigh to rupture and your belly to swell.
22 For these curse bearing waters shall enter your innards, causing the belly to swell and the thigh to rupture,” and the woman shall say, “Amen, amen.”

If she drinks the bitter herbs and she is guilty of adultery, she will get both a bloated belly and a hip put out of joint. The latter reminds one of the passage from Genesis (32:25), “When the angel saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” This is what happens when neither prevails. In the case of the former, the belly is the heart of the spirit and it will swell out of all proportion as a result of drinking in bitterness.

So the order of the sections now becomes clearer. You start with the depiction of the number of priests. There is then a depiction of one function they have to perform when individuals, their clothes and their home are afflicted with symptoms. Then the fines are described for people whose guilt is proven when they commit sin. But what happens when a husband lacks any of these clues but suspects his wife of adultery? Well the Kohenim perform their voodoo and if the drink tastes bitter to the wife under suspicion, her guilt is established. Alternatively, if she is innocent, her husband’s seed will make her pregnant. And if the husband is wrong in his accusations, nothing happens to the person afflicted with jealousy. Not very appealing to any feminist worth his or her salt.

27 He shall make her drink the water, and it shall be that, if she had been defiled and was unfaithful to her husband, the curse bearing waters shall enter her to become bitter, and her belly will swell, and her thigh will rupture. The woman will be a curse among her people.
28 But if the woman had not become defiled and she is clean, she shall be exempted and bear seed.
29 This is the law of jealousies when a woman goes astray to someone other than her husband and is defiled,
The order is then:
1. The priests.
2. The evident symptoms of uncleanliness in the skin.
3. Punishment for proven acts of sin.
4. Procedures for dealing with the suspected sin of adultery.
5. Recourse to asceticism to avoid the possibilities of sin.

Other than the voodoo part, that all seems to make sense if you think the section is all about the purity of individuals, the way of dealing with sins of the flesh, evident in that flesh, proven and unproven and one preventive response. But what if the story is really a metaphorical tale of the relations between God and humans? It helps make sense of the section of the man who “suspects” infidelity but cannot prove it and there are no symptoms in the flesh After all, the Israelites are depicted as the wife of God. What if the real issue is God’s suspicion that in their hearts the Israelites have been unfaithful but God has no proof? The Israelites are not found to be making and worshipping idols.

Then it makes sense why God – who always confesses he is a jealous God but until the Greek era was not considered omniscient – is never punished for feeling jealous even when the jealousy is unjustified. God has to follow a procedure to test the faith of the Israelites. What are the bitter waters the Israelites are forced to drink? Are the Israelites really guilty of being unfaithful to their God – in which case, they will be destroyed – or is this a matter of a temporary breach between God and his people, between God and his wife who is suspected of jealousy.

Even if the Israelites – or some of them – flirted with worshipping another God, grounds for suspected adultery are present, but no proof. The proof, in fact, will be in the pudding. Will Israelites be able to multiply and flourish or will they remain barren? If the Israelites are flirting with another, then they will taste the bitter waters of exile from the land promised to them. If they are free of adultery even in their thoughts, then the water they drink will taste fresh and they will not have bitterness in their hearts and/or in their treatment. Exile then, the bitterness, is for the religious a depiction of a crisis in the marriage where there is no definitive judgement whether God’s jealousy is warranted. If the people remain faithful to their God in spite of the trials and tribulations of galut, then they will have proven that they have maintained their fidelity to God.

That is why the asceticism follows. One joins a monkish-type order of ascetics, not because you are closer to God, but as an expression of the alienation between a people and its God. It is a retreat, an escape from one’s responsibilities as a wife. It is a retreat from the obligation to flourish and multiply. It is a confession of lack of faith in one’s God and the ability of the people to be reconciled with their God. That is why the tzara’at precede the test of adultery, for you either display symptoms of sinning or you actually sin and pay a fine. But it is a sign of a lapse not of a final divorce. God carries a big stick really only when He does not know and only suspects. Otherwise, in the end, He is relatively mushy.

Like any husband who reconciles with his wife after he has an unjustified fit of jealousy.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Sacrifice and Charity

Sacrifice and Charitable Giving: Vayikra Leviticus 1:1 – 5:36
by
Howard Adelman

When I was a youngster, I dreaded when we started reading Leviticus, the third book of the Torah. I found it such a bore. This year, it perked some interest. I thought I would write about the depiction of when leaders sin, whereas with everyone else the issue is if they sin. It is as if, qua leader, you were expected to sin and the only issue was when.

But as interesting as that issue is theologically and politically, I will not write about it this year. Instead I will write about the difference between sacrifice and charitable offerings or donations. Because I am going away and will not be back until after the due date for filing my taxes, I had my tax return completed early and began reviewing my return this morning. I noticed there was no entry for deductions for donations and gifts. I had given my accountant a pile of charitable tax receipts, but there was no entry for the total that I could find. Had he slipped up or was the entry where I could not find it? I will email him, but it did get me to think about the relationship of charitable killing to charitable giving.

Both sacrifice and charitable giving must be done of one’s free will. A compulsory assessment is not a charitable donation unless there is a free will component. We may give, but we do not just have to. If we give, the holy ordinances laid down apply. Often the sermons at this time of year in synagogues will make references to one’s charitable giving, especially to the synagogue, as the historical successor to the burnt offerings and sacrifices in the ancient temple. It is said that congregants contribute to a synagogue in a system similar to the ancient Israeli practice of korbanot. I question the connection, except for the common elements of a free will and the concept that you give in accordance with your means.

Look at even some of the obvious differences:

  1. A Temple offering, whether a bull or a sheep, a goat or a pigeon, a turtle dove or a  meal offerings, must be unblemished and be the best of your animals or, if a meal offering, made by the finest oils and flour; it is not a sacrifice if you are giving what you do not want anyway. Who checks whether money offered for charity is legitimate or not?
  2. There seems to be a superficial resemblance between bringing a sacrifice to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting where a judgement will be made whether what is offered qualifies. After all, the contemporary Tent of Meeting, Parliament, decides which donations meet specific requirements. Except, not quite. Parliament decides which charities qualify and that determines whether a charitable donation qualifies. There is no scrutinizing of the motives of the donor or the purity of the gift, just of the services performed by the organization claiming to be a charity.
  3. The determination of whether an organization is a charity is made by Parliament on behalf of the people; a sacrifice made before the Tent of Meeting is determined as qualified by the priest, but it is on behalf of the Lord, not the people.
  4. A sin or guilt offering is given to expiate sin; a charitable donation may be given to expiate sin – as viewed in all those scenes in movies when a priest orders a confessor to say ten Hail Marys and drop ten dollars in the charitable box to expiate his or her sin. However, normally, a donation is considered worthy if the organization to which it is given is judged worthy, that is, whether it serves good and charitable purposes in health, education or welfare. Charity is given to make up for sin and shortcomings not to balance accounts in the soul of the giver.
  5. When you offer a sacrifice, one presumes the person offering the sacrifice feels deep guilt. In charitable giving, the presumption, though not the actuality probably, is that an individual gives out of “purity of heart” and is meant to feel good in the giving.
  6. When offering a sacrifice at the entry to the Tent of Meeting, given the way the carcass of the dead animal was banged around and the blood scattered, the place had to stink like a slaughter house, even if the odour was “pleasing to the Lord.” {That in itself is worthy of a separate blog – why the Lord our God finds the smells of a slaughterhouse and a smokehouse so pleasing and why the priest as a ritual slaughterer is remote rather than social or pastoral, a severe rather than a comforting and instructional individual.) A charity as a place to donate, by contrast, should be squeaky clean compared to the altar in front of the Tent of Meeting.
  7. Vayikra does not, literally, mean sacrifice; it means “drawing closer to the Lord.” The point of offering a sacrifice is to be near God, to experience God’s presence. In our contemporary culture, do we experience God’s presence through charitable giving? Perhaps sometimes. But I suspect charity is mostly offered by those who are already close to or actually in the presence of God.
  8. The major difference between the two forms of giving is that, in our modern world, we try to take the sacrifice out of charitable giving and most of us give only when it really costs us very little, when there is little pain in the process. Sacrifice always entails pain, pain of a poor shepherd in giving up the best of his herd for a sacrifice and pain experienced by the animal or bird sacrificed. Modern modes of appealing for a charitable offering are usually designed to make the giving as painless as possible.
  9. In a sacrifice, other than what the priest gets to eat, everything goes up in smoke; a charitable offering is intended to serve a functional purpose over and above the services provided by a welfare state. In the evaluation of charities, a key measure of success is the degree to which the charity contributes to the community with the fewest proportion of expenses spent on administration. In charity, you are supposed to get a “bang for your buck.” Sacrifice, in contrast, is a negative sum game according to measurable standards.
  10. You may give a sacrifice in celebration of and, hopefully, the continuous prospect of good fortune. In the contemporary world, charitable giving is often a display of good fortune.

Last evening we watched an Indian film, Amal. Amal is a rickshaw driver, those three wheel open crosses between a motorcycle and a taxi that replaced the two-wheeled pulled tilted version; the auto baya eased the burden on these traditionally illiterate workers. In the film, rickshaw drivers are generally portrayed as shifty and dishonest, but Amal has a heart of pure gold. In the film, his act of charity is truly a sacrifice and there is no indication that he can get a tax deduction for his contribution.

I am not Amal. I will call my accountant to ensure that I receive the appropriate credit from my taxes for my charitable contributions.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Parashat Vayikra.Leviticus 1:1- 5:26.Peace, Sin and Guilt.16.03.13

Leviticus 1:1- 5:26 Peace, Sin and Guilt 16.03.13

Parashat Vayikra

by

Howard Adelman

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.

Chapter 2

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.

3 And he shall offer of the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire unto the LORD; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards,

4 And the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away.

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.

Vayikra.Leviticus1.1-5.26.Peace.Sin.Guilt.16.03.13.doc