This week we begin the third book of the Torah, Leviticus, or in Hebrew Sefer Vayikra. The book begins with the Lord calling to Moses after the completion of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary built by the Israelites. While the focus of Vayikra is animal sacrifice, which does not resonate with most of us modern readers, its essence is about connecting with God which is a central concern for many of us today. We want to know what it is that God wants from us. We ask, what can I do to feel connected to God? The concerns of our ancestors were not so different from the concerns of modern day religious individuals. We want to know how to feel close to God, we want to know that we are doing the right thing.
Life is filled with uncertainty. For the ancient Israelites, the uncertainty was whether, after the incident of the Golden Calf, God would accept us back. For us today it is everything — we see illness and death, terror and tragedy, job loss and financial insecurity all around us. We live in troubled times and so we yearn to feel safe and secure in a world that seems to provide inadequate amounts of both. The religious person can find it in ritual. The rituals of Vayikra provide a conduit back to God when we make a mistake. The rituals of Jewish life today are meant to remind us of what’s truly important in life.
Remembering is especially critical at this time, as this Shabbat is also known is Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. It is the second of four special Sabbaths at this time of the year. This one commands us to remember how the Amalekites tried to kill us in the desert and is read on the Shabbat before Purim when the evil, wicked Haman tried to kill us. It is a reminder that in every age there have been those who hate us and try to kill us, but miraculously, we survive. We not only survive, but we thrive!
Sadly, this state of affairs remains true today. We have seen a rise of anti-Semitism, especially in Europe; we continue to see the rise of the BDS movement on campuses across America, singling Israel out for hostility, ignoring the many horrible, awful, hate-filled countries throughout the world that oppress and victimize their own citizens. While Israel seeks only to live in safety and security in a region that remains hostile to us year after year, it is singled out, hated and despised. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and it is alive and well here at home. We need to remember the past, so that we can insure that never again do we fall victim to those who hate us.
We are a people who remember. We remember the good and the bad. We remember not to live in the past, but to guide us in the present as we seek to build a better tomorrow. We are an eternally optimistic people. We see hope and joy all around us. We recall that every time things were bleak that we found our way to a better tomorrow. We remain faithful to God and hopeful that God will see us through the dark times.
Wishing you not only a Shabbat Shalom, but a Joyous Purim as well!