Parashat Vayikra

The Value Of Animal Sacrifices

The institution of animal sacrifice allows us to confront our deepest subconscious urges and needs.

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Each of us contains the person we were at every previous stage of development--all previous ages we have ever lived. All of those competing levels and drives require some mode of expression. If we attempt to deny them, and consequently to stifle them, they will erupt in destructive or inappropriate ways.

Judaism Reflecting Life

For Judaism to be able to assist us in living, it must reflect all life. Judaism must be the haven in which we can safely channel and express the entire range of human impulses and drives, confront our own subconscious, relive our own past, face and share our deepest anxieties. If it cannot be at least this, then it is nothing.

Sacrifice horrifies and stuns precisely because it embodies so many subconscious drives and terrors. We need not reinstitute sacrifice to be able to benefit from recalling this ancient practice in the safe context of a worship service. Are you afraid of death? Confront it by reading about sacrifice. Are you ridden with guilt? Represent and conquer your guilt in the Yom Kippur ritual of the scapegoat and sacrifice.

Our ancestors turned to animal sacrifice because they saw in it a way to express deep rage, feelings of inadequacy and guilt. They could use the rite of sacrifice as a means of facing their terror of death and the unknown. They could, through sacrifice of animals, see their own frailty, their own mortality, and their own bloodiness.

In our age, a period of sanitized religion and everyday violence, escalating drug abuse and rising poverty, the practice of our ancestors has something yet to teach. And so we read Sefer Vayikra, and learn to see our fears in the eyes of an animal going to the slaughter, in the cries of the victims of sacrifice.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.