March 23, 2019 - Adar II 16, 5779
Torah: Leviticus 6:8-8:36
Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; Jeremiah 9:22-23
Brit Chadashah (New Testament): Hebrews 7:23-8:6
Going Through the Motions?
These chapters in Leviticus are probably some of the toughest ones for us to digest—the blood of animals splashed around the Mercy Seat; their entrails burnt on the brazen altar; the intricate rules and regulations about what kind of sacrifice to bring under what conditions, etc. We are not the first ones to be somewhat squeamish about these sacrifices. In fact, Maimonides (one of the leading rabbis of traditional Judaism) taught that our forefathers were attracted to animal sacrifices because the pagans around them sacrificed to their gods. The L-rd gave the sacrificial system (Leviticus chapters 1-8) to Israel as a concession and in hopes that they would eventually be weaned from the need for sacrifices.
It is easy to miss the real point of these sacrifices. We often forget that they were part and parcel of Israel’s spiritual relationship with the L-rd. For example, the burnt offering was brought as an expression of complete dedication to the L-rd—"Just as this animal is burnt up totally, I am dedicating myself totally to You, L-rd." The peace or fellowship offering was brought as an expression of gratitude for the L-rd's provision or a desire for fellowship with the L-rd. (It was split into three parts—for the L-rd, for the priest and for the offerer). The sin offering (better translated as "purification offering") was meant to cleanse the individual from defilement, morally or ritually. The "guilt offering" (better translated as "offering of compensation / restitution") was designed to restore a person to fellowship, both with the L-rd and with the individual that he / she sinned against.
Underlying all these sacrifices was the basic principle that blood was provided by the L-rd as THE medium of atonement (Leviticus 17:11). The blood had no magical inherent quality. In order for the sacrifice to be effective, the offerer had to come in sincere faith, confess his sins and accept the sacrifice as G-d’s provision for his restoration.
It was possible to offer these sacrifices mechanically—just going through the motions. This is in fact what happened during the time of the prophets such as Isaiah. A majority of the people of Israel went through the motions—they lived like devils in their "secular" lives and then acted very religious and brought a multitude of sacrifices to the L-rd. The L-rd's word to them through the prophets was a severe rebuke—I have to be the L-rd of your entire life, not just of your "religious" life (Isaiah 1:11-17).
Sounds familiar? How often do we go through the motions ourselves? We refuse to allow the L-rd into the tough, sensitive areas of our lives and then expect that by being fervent in prayer and worship, everything will be OK. His message to us is the same as it was to the people of Israel—I must be the L-rd of your entire life . . .