Posted: 25 May 2017 07:03 PM PDT
This week we complete the reading of the Book of Leviticus in our synagogues around the world. It is a difficult book for us to read, because it deals mostly with subjects – animal sacrifice and ritual impurity – that are far removed from contemporary concerns. Traditionally this was the book with which young children began their Torah studies. According to the Midrash, children begin their studies with the Book of Leviticus because children are pure and sacrifices are pure, therefore the pure begin their studies with the study of purity.
Half of all of the laws of the Torah are found in the Book of Leviticus. Therefore, it is appropriate that the book would conclude with blessings and warnings. The Torah tells us that if we follow the Laws of Leviticus, we will be blessed. If we fail to follow the laws, bad things will happen to us. The section concludes, “These are the laws, statues and instructions the G-d gave between Him and the Children of Israel on Mt. Sinai through Moses.” It is a fitting culmination to the Book of Leviticus. Except that it is not the end of the Book of Leviticus. There is another chapter after this that deals with laws pertaining to the monetary evaluation of people and of property dedicated to G-d. Some have called this chapter an “appendix” to the Book of Leviticus. They see it as material that perhaps didn’t fit in anywhere else in Leviticus, but it had to go somewhere, so, it was thrown in at the end of the book.
Rabbi Menachem Liebtag teaches says that this conclusion of the Book of Leviticus wasn’t inserted there willy-nilly. It was placed there purposefully to form a bookend with the beginning of Leviticus. He notes that the very beginning of the Book of Leviticus deals with voluntary offerings and obligatory offerings of the individual. This very end of the Book of Leviticus also deals with voluntary offerings and obligatory offerings of the individual. Between these bookends the Book of Leviticus focuses on the holiness of the Jewish nation as a whole and the rigid detail of sacrifice and purity. This might lead one to think that it is solely the holiness of Jewish people as a whole that G-d is concerned with, and that the individual is of little importance on the greater scheme of things. It also might lead one to believe that there is little room for self-expression or creativity in developing a relationship with G-d, as the way of relating to G-d seems to already be laid before us within an inflexible ritual.
According to Rabbi Liebtag, the strategic position of the texts at the beginning and end of Leviticus stresses two important features of worshiping G-d. The first is that despite the centrality of the community in Jewish life, the individual must never forget how important each one of us is to the whole. Secondly, although ritual can be stringent, and at time uncompromising, we should never allow it to stifle our ability to be creative in developing our own relationship to G-d.
This is a message that I would like to with leave you, our Confirmation class, as you complete this phase of your Jewish education. Never forget how important each one of you is to the integrity of the Jewish people as a whole. If we should lose your active participation in Jewish life, we will all be diminished. Second, I hope you will use Jewish ritual, not as an end to itself, but as a jumping off point, as a solid foundation, from which you can develop your own special relationship to G-d, a relationship that will energize each of you, and motivate each you, to reach for and develop your full potential as a human being.
The Cantor and I will now give you a blessing. We ask the congregation to rise and respond “Kein Yehi Ratzon” “Thus may it be your will” after each phrase that the Cantor chants.