In this week’s parsha, we begin the middle book of the חומש (Pentateuch), Vayikra/Leviticus, dealing almost exclusively with the priestly rituals. This book is notoriously hard to draw meaning from in the 21st century, and reading the parsha did little to alleviate that feeling. Why is it that, when reading just a few weeks ago, it seemed so easy to find meaning in the verse “And you will make me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amongst you” (Shmot/Exodus 25:8), but when the text elaborates for us what the Israelites actually did to construct and breathe meaning into that sanctuary, we feel like they are living on a different planet? Granted, we use different rituals, and have designated different spaces as holy – but why did I grow up with the idea that a single verse about that fundamental Israelite connection to Hashem can speak to us across the millennia, but the details of that sacred bond were never invested with the same metaphorical strength?
I think that part of the answer lies in the fact that so much work has been done in liberal Jewish circles to deconstruct aspects of Judaism that did not speak to us, but comparatively little work has been done constructing a positive account that acknowledges the importance of structure and detail, especially in our day-to-day lives. Halacha as a system of law has more to offer than the specific laws that get all of the attention today. As a way of structuring community and ensuring broad acceptance of ethical and behavioral norms, it has been outstandingly successful. We all ought to remember that we need structure and rules, so as not to fall into a life characterized as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.
Let Vayikra teach
That details can be holy
In our time as well