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Parashat Vayikra

March 19, 2021
6 Nisan 5781
Parashat Vayikra
Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26


Dear Friends,

Passover is a little over a week away; we will soon be talking about the “mixed multitude” that left Egypt at our seders. Let us see them in our mind’s eye. Who was in this “mixed multitude”? Do you see their reflection in the resplendent diverse Jewish community that we are today? We are a community of ethnic diversity and traditions from around the world, yet we have the Tanach, our bible, as a shared central text.

This vision allows us to see the diversity that is the Jewish community – you can almost see the Coca-Cola commercial with everyone singing together in harmony. But alas, it is only a vision. Today, there is no harmony, only rather discordant voices unable to recognize the “we” -- only able to see the “I”.

With the killings in Atlanta this week, we are once more reminded (in case we hadn’t been paying attention), that another group was being othered. And how tragic it is that it took people dying to get our attention.

Last week’s Torah portion was one of the people giving with an open heart, whatever their capacity. This week, as we begin the third book of the Torah, Vayikra/Leviticus, there is a strong focus on the rules surrounding the offerings made to the Divine as means of bringing us closer. It is interesting to note that one type of offering described in this week’s Torah portion Vayikra is meant to dispel some of the behavior that we are witnessing today -- that of standing by when we see something wrong.

The hattat offering, commonly called a guilt offering, is brought under a number of circumstances, all falling under the category of impurity, as in the case of coming in contact with a dead animal. However, these offerings are brought not because someone has done something explicitly wrong , but rather because they stood by and silently witnessed wrongdoing. They said nothing. Our tradition teaches us that standing by is simply not an option -- how powerful is that! Rabbi Jacob Milgrom z”l disagreed with the JPS translation of the word hattat, arguing that it is not a guilt offering; rather based on the Hebrew, it is a purification offering.

Why does this matter to us today, at this moment? Imagine for a moment if you can, if each and every one of us stood idly by as our neighbors, our friends, and our community were under attack and we did nothing. What would be left of our world? In the time of the Torah, offering a purification offering was one of saying, I get it, I should have said something, I should have done something. All that we have is our deeds and our words. It is time to use them as we recall that it was a “mixed multitude” that left Egypt. We are all in this together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, April 13 2021 1 Iyyar 5781