We have now made it through a full cycle of parshiyot during the pandemic. I mention this with a heavy heart; thinking of all those who have died and suffered this past year, as well as all reflecting upon all that we have had to give up. At the same time, we acknowledge a sense of gratitude as we have discovered so much inner and communal resilience. We have made it this far and life is starting to return, not necessarily to normal, but it is starting to return, nonetheless.
The way our ancient ancestors celebrated, mourned, and lived is laid out here in the book of Vayikra, Leviticus. The majority of Leviticus is primarily a handbook for the Levites, the priests of Israel. It includes numerous instructions for how to properly perform sacrificial rites. This is especially true in the first parasha which teaches us about the olah, the burnt offering; the mincha or meal offering; the zevach shleymim or offering of well-being; the chattat or guilt offering; and the asham or purgation offering, just to name a few.
What is interesting to us modern readers is maybe not so much the details behind the offerings, but instead that they all fall under the category of korban, which is the generic term for a sacrificial offering. However, the term korban actually means to ‘draw something close.’ In this case, the sacrificial offering would serve to draw God close to the Israelites. It is a ritual designed to help create a form of spiritual intimacy with God. However, as often happens, we wonder, why do we read this book of the Torah which requires actions that we have not performed in over two thousand years.
At the end of the Torah it teaches us there arose no prophet again like Moses who spoke to God panim el panim, face to face. Yet there would arise many more prophets in our tradition after Moses like Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah and Amos to name a few. All of them were connected to God even if they did not have the same physical proximity that Moses may have had.
This past year, we have found comfort in the concept of korban, or to draw something close. We have spent this past year taking on the challenge of maintaining spiritual connection while also being physically distant from each other. We have found ways to draw close to each other when we can see each other’s faces through virtual gatherings. In each other’s faces, we have also found new ways of encountering the face of God as well.
We continue to embody the most important lessons of the sacrifices and offerings in ways that are meaningful and profound, by reinterpreting the korban to mean: “to draw spiritually close while being physically distant.”
We just need a little more patience as the day is coming speedily and soon, where we will have the choice to draw close in-person or virtually. Until that day comes, we continue to pray for the health and safety of our community, our friends and families, and for all the peoples of the world.
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff