God called out. Vayikra. So begins the book of Leviticus, probably the least relevant to our lives today. Or so it would seem.The first half of Vayikra is all about “korbanot”…offerings, badly translated as sacrifices. The word comes from the same word for close, as in getting close to God. In our annual dance around the text, we come up to Vayikra in early spring (or what would pass for Spring, were we not in Chicago) and we must engage to find some meaning.
When God communicated with Moses the first time, God “spoke” at the Burning Bush, not “called out.” There was nothing in between Moses and the Bush. It may have been confusing to see a Bush burn but not burn up, but Moses could see it all clearly. Here, in Vayikra, we enter the world of smoke and ritual. The people will begin bringing offerings of thanksgiving and atonement. They will bring goats, bulls, birds and flour. There will be blood and noise, and as the offerings burn up, they will fill the Tabernacle with lots of smoke. Maybe the smoke will be “rayach n’choach” a pleasing odor to God, but the smoke and cinders will irritate the eyes and lungs of the priests and those around him.
Imagine how chaotic that Tabernacle could be when an offering took place. The detailed instructions were like a voice cutting through the smoke, bring some order to the moment. God had to call out instead of speak, so the Divine voice could cut through the cinders, smoke and sounds.
God called out to give instructions on how to find the holiness in daily actions. The instructions were for the priests, of course, but the people were part of the ritual. Without them, the priests would lack for offerings. With the people, the holy connections are made between Israel and God.
There is smoke all around us, keeping us from clarity, keeping us from finding the holy in our daily actions. It’s hard to know what to do next when we’re confused and can’t catch our breath. Think about yoga; we find our breath by doing a very proscribed routine of movements. We rely on the routine to find our way out of the confusion. That’s the value of routine, I think. Routines and instructions give us room for breathing and seeing clearly.
As we begin the book of Vayikra, reading the minute details of what to bring, how to bring, when to bring, we can take the opportunity to see through the smoke around us, and find holiness within.