Perspective—it can be hard to maintain. We have sayings like “I need to take a step back” or, in management speak, “I need to step out onto the balcony.” Our lives are primarily lived in the moment, and plenty of analysis notes that we humans can really only grasp time in 90-day chunks. It’s hard to even imagine how sunny and warm the Summer of 2022 will be when winter is still upon us. But stepping back—or stepping out onto the balcony—can remind us to look beyond the moment and past the narrow frame of reference in front of us.
The change from one book to the next in our reading of Hebrew bible provides such perspective. This week, we shift from the Book of Exodus to the Book of Leviticus, which is also known as the Torah of the Kohanim, or priests. Our reading this week is from the first portion, Vayika. For context, we’ve now moved from the creation narrative—of the world and of humankind and of the children of Israel—to the formation narrative of Israel as a people. These building blocks shape our perspective; they connect all of creation to a Creator and all of creation to one another.
We are inextricably intertwined: the air we breathe, the sounds we produce with our mouths that can build or destroy worlds, the outstretched hands that can repel or welcome in. This new book of Torah that we now read from adds a profound and hard-to-relate-to element, namely sacrifice. A literal reading emphasizes the gifting of one’s bounty in gratitude or guilt. A deeper reading instructs us that in all of us are base, that we possess the bestial qualities of animals, of cattle, of flock.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us that our sacrifice is of the animal, by so regaining the ability to look up and out beyond ourselves and our needs; it is of the cattle, by so regaining an appreciation for the borders and boundaries that demarcate ourselves from others; and it is of the flock, by so regaining a sense that, while we are part of community, there are times when we must step forward and lead.
May this Shabbat bring you renewed perspective, and may it bring you renewal.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.