Slippery With Blood

Parashat Vayikra is filled with the killing of animals.

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Closeness to God

The Israelites approached the altar in order to attain closeness to the Divine--to experience what we today call spiritual elevation, a consciousness of being lifted up to something higher than themselves. They drew nearer to God not by denying the body and its drives bur by raising the physical to a sacred purpose. From the rituals of worship set forth in Vayikra we learn that aggression need not be extinguished in the personality in order to lead a holy life; it may instead be channeled in constructive directions and employed for the good.
animal sacrificeA Talmudic passage reminds us that certain traits may be inborn, but character is never determined by fate. All human energies are ours to activate as we wish, in accordance with our freedom. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak observed: "One who is born under the sign of Mars will be a shedder of blood." Rav Ashi did not see such a prediction as necessarily bad, for as he pointed out, one could "shed blood" for a good cause--by becoming "either a surgeon... a ritual slaughterer (shochet), or a circumciser (mohel)" (BT Shabbat 156a).

So we may aspire, even today, to be a kingdom of priests-a people committed to elevating and sanctifying even the darkest forces within the psyche. If we closely read the seemingly dry instructions and bloody details of parashat Vayikra, we learn that through the discipline of our faith we can redeem what is broken and flawed within ourselves, transforming barbaric urges into opportunities for blessing.

So we may aspire, even today, to be a kingdom of priests-a people committed to elevating and sanctifying even the darkest forces within the psyche. If we closely read the seemingly dry instructions and bloody details of parashat Vayikra, we learn that through the discipline of our faith we can redeem what is broken and flawed within ourselves, transforming barbaric urges into opportunities for blessing.

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Rabbi Janet Marder

Rabbi Janet Marder is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, California. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and was ordained in 1979 by Hebrew Union College.