This week we will be reading from Parashat Tzav, which is a continuation from last week’s Torah Portion Vayikra and is focused on the sacrificial cult as established through Aaron, Moses’ brother. As Cantor wrote in her D’var Torah last week, “According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Leviticus is divided into three parts. The first is about the holy – more specifically sacrifices.” And yet, the question comes up pretty much every year, why do we spend so much time reading about the sacrifices?
With the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (The Temple) in Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 C.E., the sacrificial cult ended. Though there are prayers in our liturgy calling for the restoration of Jerusalem and the return to sacrifices, our tradition has evolved and transformed since then. As we learn about from our haftarah portion this week, in the words of Jeremiah, “Listen to Me, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; walk only in the way that I have commanded you, and it shall go well with you” (Jeremiah 7:23).
Jeremiah was castigating the people because he felt they were violating the tenants of the proper sacrifices. More than that, he was also setting the groundwork for an eventual turn away from this entire form of worship.
Our modern tradition may be related to the sacrifices our ancestors offered up, but it is also radically different as well. Nowadays we focus on the performance of gemilut chasidim, acts of loving kindness and worship rather than offerings. How we choose to do Judaism is perhaps even something Moses and Aaron would not recognize, but it would hopefully be something they approve of.
I recently had a conversation with some students who kept apologizing because they are not “super-religious.” I asked them to define what it means to be “super-religious.” For them it meant coming regularly to services and keeping kosher. Like the sacrifices, this is one way to define one’s religiosity. However, there are so many more ways. I argued that by living and embodying contemporary Jewish values in their homes, schools, and in their lives, they were in fact, “super-religious.”
Worship takes on many forms. For our ancestors, it was all about the sacrifices. For the later rabbis it was all about observance and the performance of mitzvot. For Reform Judaism, for the longest time it was an emphasis on Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. We are now in a time of transformation again where we get to define what worship means to us. It can certainly be in the synagogue and in the sanctuary, but more and more, it also means to walk in God’s ways wherever we are.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff