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Animal Sacrifice or iPhone?

                          The Purple Sheet

          Shabbat Parshat VaYikra- March 18th/19th – ט’ אדר ב תשע’ו


Animal Sacrifice or iPhone?


This week we begin the third of the Five Books of Moses, the Book of VaYikra, Leviticus. It deals primarily with sacrifices and, let’s face it, not most people’s favourite topic. We can safely assume that it is one of the least relatable parts of the Torah for many, especially since we have not had a Temple for a couple of millennia now. And even if we did, the truth of the matter is that very few people find much spirituality in the slaughter of an animal and its associated activities like sprinkling of blood. In fact, when is the last time you even saw an animal being slaughtered? If you are like most people in Western society, probably never.


I recall once giving a class on Korbanot, Offerings and I graphically described the process of a kill that I used to witness at my father’s meat-packing plant. One poor guy had to get up and leave the class because he felt nauseous. My favourite part at Grace Meat Packers was the worker who used to reach into the cavity of the steer, suspended from the ceiling by its hind leg, and pull out all of the guts onto a large metal table. Or was it the the huge saw, also suspended from the ceiling, that buzzed through the animal turning it into two sides of beef? But I better stop before you end up like that fellow from class.


The point however is that for most of us, meat appears in our lives as a shiny red slab that sits under a cellophane wrapper on a white styrofoam plate. We have very little awareness, nor interest in fact, of how it got there. We are happy to pay for it, throw it on the bbq and enjoy.


And herein perhaps lies the problem of why we do not relate to sacrifices. While we tend to view it as a primitive act by antiquated people who did not have our sophisticated approach to life, perhaps it is the exact opposite. Maybe the ancients were in touch with a part of nature that we have so little appreciation of and sensitivity to.


Throughout most of history, up until the Industrial Revolution, people lived close to the land and had a greater awareness of their environment through agriculture and raising animals. There was a far greater knowledge of the power and nuances of nature as an expression of God in the world. Indeed Maimonides (in Mishneh Torah) tells us that one of the two means by which one can fulfill the commandment of Love of God is through a greater appreciation and understanding of the natural world.


And so while we tend to view ourselves as advanced because we have the ability to distract ourselves with endless mindless titillation with our iPhones, computers, supersized HD televisions, Beats headphones and the like – and as we ensconce ourselves from the outside world in our cars and offices – the result is that we totally ignore the grace, beauty and Godliness that surrounds us in the life cycles of creatures, animals, trees, plants, and bugs.


Just the other day, while hanging out at the beach, I looked around and noticed that so many people (myself included at times) were in that familiar modern-prayer stance: head bowed down at a 45 degree angle and solemnly and silently looking at their holy phones gently cradled in their palms. All the surrounding beauty of the blue skies, crashing waves, warm sand, turquoise waters and salty breeze could not compete with emails and Facebook.


I may not be Mr. Nature but I do have one annual foray into farming life, if you can even call it that, with my Mango tree in the backyard. I planted her (him?) many years ago when it was but a few feet tall (now it is about 20 ft – kenayna hara as my Bubby would say). I recall lovingly bringing it back to life when it got blown over one hurricane season a number of years back. I do very little tending to it; the mangos magically arrive yearly – some years more than others. But even with my slight efforts, the fruit from that particular tree is more dear to me than any other fruit I eat all year long.


I anticipate the buds and watch them transform from tiny nothings to eight inch fruits in the course of a few months. I water the tree when there is not enough rain and chase the birds and squirrels away so they don’t ruin the fruit as they ripen (blue jays are the worst). I make sure to go out early every morning to see if any mangos have fallen, or are ready to, before the bugs get to them. And when that first beautiful delicious mango is ready, I save it for Shabbat and make the special blessing on having a fruit for the first time in its season, the Shehecheyanu blessing.


Maybe indeed Maimonides was correct in his assessment in the Guide for the Perplexed that sacrifices were a common form of worship for all peoples and inasmuch as the Jewish people were surrounded by it in Egypt, God gave them a “kosher” version of it knowing that they could not abstain from it cold turkey. And maybe the implication that is was a somewhat passing phase in Jewish history is indeed the case and we have outgrown the whole process (although many disagree with this view of Maimonides).


Or maybe the fact that the Torah spends so much time focusing on offering living things as a meaningful means to connect with God is a lesson for us even today – that we need to revert back to a simpler and purer way of life where the toil of my hands in the ground and soil, and not tapping an iPhone screen or computer keyboard, will bring us back in touch with our Creator.

I am not a prophet and how things will look and be when the Temple is eventually rebuilt is beyond me. But whatever the case, I am sure it will herald a time when we shall have a much greater appreciation of the real and not virtual world around us as we better hear, feel, touch and smell the call of nature as a means of getting closer to God.


Power in the blossom

Power in the stone…

Power in the wheat field

Power in the rain

Power in the sunlight and the hurricane…

The power of the sunrise

and the power of a prayer released

-Jackson Browne


Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Aish South Florida

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