Tag Archives: Leviticus

Realistic Theology

Torah-Inspired, Reflection of The Day:

Today we look at B’chukotai, Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34 – two chapters, almost, with the first focused on the outcomes of following or not following God’s commandments, and the second on the rules about vows, concluding with the last verse of Leviticus:

These are the commandments that Adonai commanded Moses for the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

As rationalists, we often bristle at the idea that following commandments would result in blessings and not following them would result in curses. Reward and punishment theology seems unrealistic at best, we even have a Biblical book arguing against it entirely – the Book of Job.

So how do we learn from these texts?

When we follow reasonable practices that help us get along with each other better, when we treat the planet better, we will likely find our lives turn out better. Following a social contract creates better society. Noticing that certain practices hurt the environment, and in turn our livelihoods and fates, and then changing our behavior, leads us to a better life for all.

Our theology should support demands for improved behavior, without threatening supernatural rewards and punishments.

Avoid idolatry and avoid materialism

Torah-Inspired, Reflection of The Day:

Today we look at B’har, Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2 – rules of economic fairness – forgiveness of debts; as well as rules about allowing land to rest on the seventh year. The text sums up the intent of these laws in the final lines which remind the Israelites that they serve God, who freed them from Egypt, and that they should make no idols and observe the Sabbath.

Materialism is a form of idolatry. When we claim to own a thing or a person or the land we allow the ownership to rule us. Giving up on that ownership, making rules about it that are fair, and reminding our selves on a regular basis that all belongs to the universe and not us, frees us from being bound to our possession of things.

Remembering that only the infinite is worthy of worship helps us focus on the values that create a better world. Observing pauses like Shabbat on a weekly basis, and the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, allows us to regain a sense of priorities greater than focus on what we have and don’t have.

Aim for holiness in the New Year

Torah-Inspired, Days of Awe Reflection of The Day…

Today we look at K’doshim, Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27 – the holiness code, a list of behaviors that Jews identify as fulfilling the verse that appears early in this reading:

Lev. 19:2 Speak to the entire community of the Israelites, and say to them: Holy are you to be, for holy am I, Adonai your God!

Jews tend to read this section as describing how God intends us to be holy – namely by adhering to these standards. The verse serves as an introduction to the behaviors and rituals that follow.

This says that holiness is not other-worldly, not some distant divine essence. Rather, to be holy is to be distinct – to separate ourselves by following paths of good actions. To be holy is to distinguish our behavior, just like creating holiness for a time or space is about setting aside that time and space as special and different from other events and locations.

On this Day of Repentance, that starts this evening, let us all try and find some way to distinguish ourselves. May we make this year one where our actions bring holiness into the world.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah – may we all be well-inscribed for the New Year.

Leviticus Says Nothing About Homosexuality

Torah-Inspired, Days of Awe Reflection of The Day…

Today we look at Acharei Mot, Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30 – the offerings required of Aaron, including the one for all of the sins of the Israelites on the Day of Atonement, prohibitions against hunting, and a host of laws about prohibited relationships.

After that long list comes this text, used frequently, usually by non-Jews, in current times:

Lev. 18:21 Your seed-offspring you are not to give-over for bringing-across to the Molech, that you not profane the name of your God, I am Adonai!
22 With a male you are not to lie (after the manner of) lying with a woman, it is an abomination!
23 With any animal you are not to give your emission of seed, becoming-impure through it; a woman is not to stand before an animal, mating with it, it is perversion!

Considering that verse 22, the often quoted anti-homosexual prohibition does not come in the area preceding it, about prohibited marriage relations, we can infer that the notion of two men or two women living together and building a family wasn’t seen as an option in ancient Israelite society. Furthermore, the placement of this practice in the area of religious and behavioral abominations also places it outside the norms of regular community life.

Since today we see that same-sex families are just as healthy as their heterosexual alternatives, and that supporting people in forming families is one of the main purposes of a religious society that advocates healthy partnered relationships over promiscuity, we can understand this text as prohibiting something else.

Some evidence points to this prohibiting a form of worship where the priest would dress as a woman and have sex with the worshiper. We can certainly see that such a cult of prostitution would be against the ethics of Ancient Israelite society, and would be a much more accurate fit to what this text might prohibit.

As reasonable religious people we should use our reflective time of year as an opportunity to reconcile the principles we aim to live by with how we read our texts as well. Fairness and compassion, as well as the promotion of healthy families, demand that we must be for total inclusion of the diversity of sexual and gender identities.

Bodies are sources of holiness too

Torah-Inspired, Days of Awe Reflection of The Day…

Today we look at M’tzorah, Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33 – ritual impurities around mysterious skin conditions (not leprosy, BTW), and ritual impurities around sexual relationships.

What’s the deal with the impurities? What kind of superstitious mumbo-jumbo is this?

Let us depart from the judgmental attitude towards cleanliness in English. All of the impurities mentioned in this section, and the procedures around them, could happen to anyone, and do happen to almost everyone – they are normal results of human existence. Impurity is not a critique, but a rhythm to life, living, and the appreciation of our physicality.

How we cycle in and out of different moments in life is worth noting. When we come into contact with the sources of creation via intimacy we ought to take note in some way. Recognizing the sacredness in such acts by washing before and afterward and treating our actions as full of impact seems like a good corrective in a society where all too often sex and sexuality get easily demeaned by disrespectful access and treatment.

We find great meaning in the connection between our bodies and relationships. At this reflective time of year, let us aim for better and more respectful physicality.

Help each other leave judgment behind

Torah-Inspired, Days of Awe Reflection of The Day…

Today we look at Tazree-ah, Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59 – skin eruptions, ritual impurity, and how the ancient priest diagnosed these things.

We should remember that the Torah does not serve as a medical manual, even for its ancient time. Rather, we recognize that the Torah offers us advice for society, not for biology.

The social advice here comes from creating standards of inclusion and exclusion. People in difficulty, especially visible difficulty, often face rejection from society. When we establish rules that allow us to classify these difficulties by an authority figure, we can actually remove the stigma because we normalize the issue.

Let us learn at this time of reflection to go beyond our initial reactions to people with struggles. The strength of any social group can be measured by how well we aid those in need of help. Everyone gets sick, everyone faces hardship – let us not allow others’ difficulties to color our reactions to them. Let us reach out to each other in our times of need.

Silence may be our best response

Torah-Inspired, Days of Awe Reflection of The Day…

Today we look at Sh’mini, Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47 – priestly offerings, the strange and horrible deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, and the rules of kosher eating.

We can’t easily ignore the death of Aaron’s sons, here’s the full text:

Lev. 10:1 Now Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, took each-man his pan, and, placing fire in them, put smoking-incense on it, and brought-near, before the presence of Adonai, outside fire, such as he had not commanded them.
2 And fire went out from the presence of Adonai and consumed them, so that they died, before the presence of Adonai.
3 Moses said to Aaron: It is what Adonai spoke (about), saying: Through those permitted-near to me, I will be-proven-holy, before all the people, I will be-accorded-honor! Aaron was silent.

Today, during these days of reflection, I want to learn from Aaron. In the face of tragedy, personal and communal, sometimes all we can bring is our silence presence.

In this, Aaron, the one who could speak easily and well, learned from Moses, who spoke reluctantly and earlier described himself this way:
No man of words am I, not from yesterday, not from the day-before, not (even) since you have spoken to your servant, for heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue am I! (Exodus 4:10)

When struck by the worst of pains, thoughtful anguished silence may be the best we can offer.

Keeping the Community Warm

Torah-Inspired, Days of Awe Reflection of The Day…

Today we look at Tzav, Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36 – lots more about offerings and the practices of the priesthood.

Also, these verses requiring the priests to maintain a fire:
Lev. 6:5 Now the fire on the slaughter-site is to be kept-blazing upon it – it must not go out! – and the priest is to stoke on it (pieces-of-)wood, in the morning, (every) morning, and he is to arrange on it the offering-up, and is to turn into smoke on it the fat-parts of the shalom-offering.
6 A regular fire is to be kept-blazing upon the slaughter-site-it is not to go out!

Why maintain a regular flame in the center of the community?

We are a healthy community when we devote resources to the maintenance of things we may need at any time, even if we don’t all need it right now.

Keeping a warm place in the center of our communities, a place of welcome and sustenance, requires constant attention. We must appoint someone to do this and give them the resources to make sure that the fire doesn’t go out.

Good Citizenship Requires Individual Participation

Shanah Tovah everyone! Happy Second Day of 5773!

Today we look at Va-Yikra, Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26 – the first reading of Leviticus.

Leviticus opens with a lot of talk of offerings – the different kinds of things we must offer up on an altar in ancient Israelite religious practices.

We no longer do these, so what can they teach us?

Community rules count – when we miss the mark and hurt someone, we have probably violated an ethical code of our community as well. So we apologize to the person we’ve hurt, make amends, and then pay a penalty to the community for disrespecting the civics of our society as well.

We are all connected, and our actions have repercussions beyond the individual.

During these Days of Awe we are called upon to confess publicly for exactly this reason – as individual members of a community we need to repair our standards together.