We read about a lot of stuff we no longer do. When we enter Leviticus we dwell on sacrifices. The Torah inundates us with their details. We read about slaughtering animals and sprinkling their blood on the altar. And yet year in and year out we continue to read about these foreign rituals.
Even though, nearly 2,000 years ago we stopped performing these sacrifices. When the Temple was destroyed the sacrificial cult could no longer continue. Some still hope for its restoration. They pray, “Restore the service to Your most holy House, and accept in love and favor the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer.” I do not offer such prayers.
I want nothing to do with the sacrificial rituals of ancient days. And yet I continue to read about them. Their details are elucidated in the weekly portions we begin this week. The cycle of readings insists that we must find meaning even in what we longer do and in what we do not even like.
I read and reread.
“When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.” (Leviticus 1) I take note. The opening words of the Hebrew are in the singular. But a few words later the Torah shifts to the plural.
Does the ritual act help a person feel connected to the community? Does it transform the individual? Do the prayers we offer shift our concerns away from our individual pursuits and personal worries?
The Hasidic masters taught that we enter the sanctuary as individuals. But the experience of prayer helps us to become part of the community. We enter as an individual, with singular thoughts and concerns. And then we see others. We offer each other, “Shabbat Shalom.” We catch up on the week.
We hear others. We sing “Oseh Shalom.” We are lifted by their voices. “Make peace for us!” We are transformed by their prayers.
The prayer experience insists that we pronounce “we.” Our prayers avoid the “I.”
We pray, “Find favor, Lord our God, in Your people Israel and their prayer.”
Over and over again we say, “our.” And this is the essence of the Jewish religious experience. It demands that we speak in the plural. It insists our concerns shift from the individual to the group.
We let go of our personal concerns. And we begin to think about others.
An individual may in fact bring an individual offering. The experience, however, transforms the person’s concern. The singular shifts to the plural. The offering ascends to heaven. The individual’s thoughts ascend toward others.