Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26
(And He Called)
The book of Leviticus begins with the Laws of sacrifice for the individual, the congregation, and the priests.
AS WE STEP INTO THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS, we move to another level of spiritual development and pause to take stock of our journey. Genesis can be read as the descent of the soul and its contraction into physical form. It is the story of incarnation and as the story ends we find ourselves enslaved in the narrow perspectives of physical reality.
Exodus then shows us the path of liberation, the awakening of the soul to its true essence, which interpenetrates the Divine Essence. God must find a way into our hearts and we must find a way into the heart of Reality… which is God-consciousness. The story of Exodus ends with the building of the Mishkan, which is the vehicle for this interpenetration. Through the Mishkan we learn that our Freedom depends on our connection to God and our willingness to make a holy space within us and between us for God to dwell.
How can we sustain this connection, this state of holy freedom? This is the question addressed by the book of Leviticus. So often the complications of life seem to draw us away from the perspectives of holiness. We become alienated, distracted, complacent, blind to what is essential; deaf to the music at the core of silence; numb to the mystery that dwells at the heart of this life. Our daily struggles sometimes close us off from the flow of the Great Love.
The blessing of Vayikra is the call to come into harmony, balance, connection and intimacy with the God who has freed us for this love… and not only to return, but to establish for ourselves a system of continual returning.
THE MEDICINE that Vayikra gives us for the ‘dis-ease’ of our alienation from God is described in the language of Korbanot, the “sacrifices.” Literally, Korbanot means “bringing ourselves near” again to God. The Korbanot were a powerful and effective means of engaging all of the senses, witnessing the power of Life and Death, and then sharing a sacred meal in the Presence of God. The result was experienced as total purification — removal of obstructions and a re-connection to the flow of God’s love and presence. And for a time this was a spiritual technology that worked well.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
OUR TRADITION TELLS US that prayer now takes the place of the sacrifices. The spiritual challenge of Vayikra is to make our prayer-life as powerful, as intense, and as effective as the sacrificial system was for our ancestors.
Can the word of a prayer engage the senses fully? Can we taste it? Smell it? Touch it? Feel its blood? Hear its music and the silence within it? Witness its passage into the void? See in it the shadow of death and the spark of life? Do we leave our prayer feeling purified, our burdens lifted?
Our ancestors celebrated their new state of connection by sharing a sacred meal with the priests and with God. After praying in community, can we also make our celebrations holy? Can we eat these sacred meals — our Kiddush and Oneg Shabbat gatherings* — knowing that each bite of our feast is also tasted and enjoyed by God?
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
Vayikra describes a number of different kinds of sacrifices, each one directed towards correcting a specific imbalance or disease of soul. This week our practice of prayer will be guided by the images of Vayikra as we lay our words on the altar of sacrifice. Each spiritual disease from which we suffer removes us from God’s Presence. Our practice of prayer is meant to bring us close again.
We will first discern the particular disease that keeps us distant from God. Then we will chant the sacred phrase that carries the power of Korban, the power to release the obstacles that keep us separate. Each sacred phrase holds a particular medicine that can restore our connection to the whole of Creation and return us to God’s loving embrace.
THERE IS A PARTICULAR SPIRITUAL AILMENT THAT MANIFESTS AS AN INFLATION OF THE SELF. The mind is consumed with ME. Everything seems to depend on ME. I am obsessed by MY memories, MY plans, MY importance, MY spiritual path, MY sickness, how I might manipulate the world to MY benefit. The medicine for this condition must sometimes be drastic — namely, the complete nullification of self.
The Olah is the burnt offering that is completely consumed by fire. Through the Olah we experience the complete surrender of the self to God’s will.
In prayer, the Olah is the total surrender of “ME” into the Divine fires. When the self is entirely given in prayer, we may experience a moment of terror as the self dissolves. In that moment of dissolution, God welcomes the gift of our return and breathes in the sweet savor of our fragrance (which is the self distilled into its pure essence). God then breathes our unique essence back into us that we might be re-created. In that moment of Divine pleasure, we experience a great and sublime relief.
“Re-ach nicho-ach L’Yah”
a sweet savor unto God
(These are the words that I savor and contemplate as a sense of self returns to healthy balance in relationship to the cosmos that is birthing me.)
THERE IS A PARTICULAR SPIRITUAL DISEASE THAT AFFLICTS US WHEN WE ARE CORRUPTED OR INSULATED BY OUR WEALTH AND GOOD FORTUNE. It manifests as complacency and stinginess, as a lack of passion or sense of wonder.
The Sh’lamim is an offering of thanksgiving. It expresses our sense of wholeness and is given in response to the Grace we receive. Our giving allows that Grace to flow through us. This offering always culminates in a sacred meal shared with the givers, priests and God.
In prayer, the sh’lamim flows from our acknowledgement of the amazing richness of Life. Through this offering, generosity is kindled in the heart. Giving becomes the natural response to receiving. My fullness overflows into the world and goodness is multiplied as it is shared. I let my prayer express this wondrous overflow.
“Kosi r’vaya” (Psalms 23:5)
My cup satisfies… overflowing
(These are the words that remind me that I must become a vessel through which the abundance can flow.)
THERE IS A PARTICULAR SPIRITUAL DISEASE THAT IS CAUSED BY CARRYING THE BURDEN OF PAST MISTAKES. It causes us shame which cuts us off from God’s love. We become defensive and seek to blame others.
The Chatat is an offering that lifts from us the sorrow of our errors. When awareness reveals that we have acted unconsciously, and thus have unintentionally done damage to others, our remorse can be transformed into resolve. The Chatat celebrates this moment of clarity, purifying us from the obscuring effects of guilt or shame, empowering us to turn towards God, towards reconciliation and wholeness.
In prayer, the Chatat is the heart-song that sings us free from the shame of our errors, and turns our mistakes into clear instructions for repair and holiness.
“Hashiveynu Elekha v’nashuva” (Lamentations 4:21)
Let us turn to You and we will be turned
(These are the words that I use to extricate myself from the web of guilt and open me to the healing power of forgiveness.)
Note: We are all at all levels of development at once. No one level has precedence over another. Each comes into focus as we identify with that level.
* Kiddush, literally “sanctification,” and Oneg Shabbat, literally “Sabbath joy,” have come to refer to the celebrations following Sabbath services, which can range from simple cake and soda to elaborate sit-down meals.
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.