This week we will begin reading from the book of Leviticus with parashat Vayikra. The book of Leviticus takes place while the Israelites continue to be encamped in the wilderness. Unlike Exodus, which is mostly narrative, Leviticus is mostly focused on observances including the rites and procedures associated with the sacrificial cult.
In our parasha this week, we learn about the olah – the burnt offering, the minchah – the meal offering, the zevach sh’lamim – the sacrifice of well-being, and the chatat – the purgation, and the asham – the reparation offering.
The olah, the burnt offering, was probably one of the most regular occurring offering. In addition, it was a completely voluntary offering. There is a tension within tradition between the voluntary and the obligatory. For example, when building the mishkan, the Israelites were asked to give, from those whose hearts were so moved. Then later on, there was an obligatory tax of a half-shekel on all men to help maintain the mishkan, the portable tabernacle Here many of the offerings, korbanot, are voluntary, but some are obligatory based on one’s previous actions.
This is part of the beauty and power of what it means to be Jewish. Tzedakah, which is often translate to mean ‘charity’ actually comes from the root for justice. The idea being that one’s gifts, whether of the heart or out of a sense of obligation, or out of both desires, are about repair. They are about helping the world become more as it ought to be, rather than as it is.
With this in mind, we will continue that work towards tzedakah on this Shabbat. Please join us this evening where we will be joining with congregations across the country in observance of Refugee Shabbat, which took place last week and this week. We will be hearing from Reshad, a graduate from Kabul Polytechnic who worked with U.S. projects in Afghanistan. He and his wife fled to the U.S. after receiving death threats for his work with the U.S.
This is also part of our kickoff to the Welcome the Stranger Campaign where members of RTR and the Islamic Center of Rockland will be working together to help settle a refugee family from Afghanistan here in Rockland County. This work is also being supported by Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration, who were instrumental in helping us bring our speaker. It should be a powerful evening, and we hope you are able to join is either in person or virtually.
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff