Because we are sharing this Shabbat morning with the Schechter School community, we will not have our usual Torah study. However, there will be a modified Torah study in Friday night’s service, in which we will examine the inconsistency between the first group of sinners and the second category:
Leviticus, Chapter 4
2. IF a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them;
3. IF the priest who is anointed sins according to the sin of the people;
13. IF the whole congregation of Israel sins through ignorance, and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done something against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty;
27. IF any one of the common people sins through ignorance, when he does something against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and is guilty;
Leviticus, Chapter 4
22. WHEN a ruler has sinned, and done something through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty;
Minutes of Torah
The third book of the Torah, Vayikra/Leviticus, opens with an extensively detailed minute description of the sacrificial offerings to be made in the Mishkan/Tabernacle. Korban, the noun usually translated as “sacrifice” or “offering,” derives from the Hebrew verb that means “approaching, drawing near, coming close.” Thus, we might understand the sacrificial system as actions by which the Israelites “drew near” to the Divine by “coming closer” to realizing the Divine Image that lay within them.
Of course, these sacrifices became obsolete with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The rabbis of the post-Temple period then decreed that the institution of prayer as a Jewish spiritual practice would replace the sacrificial offerings.
But returning to the sacrifices, the parashah emphasizes throughout that any animal to be sacrificed must be without blemish. To be considered fit as a sacrifice as a means of coming close to God, the animal must be flawless. This “unblemished” standard for offerings intended to draw one closer to the Divine set an extraordinary, perhaps unrealistic, lofty bar.
Yet, doesn’t the same phenomenon occur with us when we strive to “come closer” in relationship with others, or perhaps with God through prayer: many of us may have a similar expectation of the need for perfection — failing which, we turn back. We may instinctively see our flaws as obstacles blocking our attempts to make a connection.
In turn, this assumption may stir within us strong negative emotions at the prospect of “falling short,” arising from awareness of our own inevitable imperfection. These emotions can paralyze us.
For many of us, perfectionism is a significant cause of avoidance or procrastination, even when we know we must perform. Yet, fear that our efforts will be flawed leads to delay, rather than prompt action. Indeed, even as we engage in any task, our mind’s perfectionist tendency may drift into the future and anticipate a less than optimal outcome — also known in the vernacular as, “not good enough.”
However, the Torah portion includes an exception to the requirement for a perfect animal: an offering of fowl rather than cattle — presumably a more affordable option for the masses, need not be perfect. God will accept your attempt at drawing near, even if it is not perfect.
The parashah thenoffers an additional corrective to the pitfalls of perfectionism, by setting forth the offerings in a specific, detailed set of directions. The sacrifices are carefully choreographed and must be presented “just right.” This meticulousness reveals the presence of a certain sense of order regarding the sacrificial offerings.
This sense of order also works for us. Introducing more order into our lives, and focusing on our project one step at a time to its completion, we help insure that with our satisfaction being earned for each step of the task, we need not be so concerned that there will be any disappointment, or lack of confidence, in the completed task.
Moreover, through the semblance of “order,” we can better determine whether our actions comport with our priorities and values; and that we are not simply functioning on “auto-pilot.”
Finally, order invites us to pay attention to our capacity to hold or bear a weight or a burden. As the Talmud teaches us: “If you hold a large amount, you may not be able to retain it; if you hold a small amount, you can retain it.”
This year, we read parashat Vayikra and the painstaking, detailed “order” inhering in the sacrificial rites, two weeks before our celebration of the Passover seder. The seder, which of course represents the paradigm for the concept of order (of course, seder means “order”), serves as a meaningful structure for the evening’s celebration. The Passover seder seeks to liberate us from habit and wake us from our slumbers, as for example, reflected in the “Four Questions.” For many of us, this time of year is a period of restoring order to our home environments, our inner lives, and our society — through the removal of the chametz of perfectionism and its deleterious consequences of procrastination and avoidance, which constrains us from more fully realizing our best selves.
Approaching this season of our ancestors’ liberation from Egyptian servitude, we need to remember to put our thoughts into a coherent order, taking one step at a time. If we put first things first — easily said, but hard to achieve; re-order our actions to align them with the people and purposes that line up with our values; and let go of the excess chametz cluttering our lives by pruning away that which we no longer need; then, in this time of zman cheiruteinu, the season of liberty, we can emerge from enslavement to freedom, otherwise known as seder, or order.
Rav Julius Rabinowitz