How can I transform ordinary activities like eating into a form of Jewish Meditation? Insights from Parshat Vayikra
The parshah opens with God calling to Moses from the Ohel Mo’ed, the Tent of Meeting, and proceeding to instruct him in the laws of the korbanot, the animal and meal offerings. These include: The “ascending offering” (olah) that is burned completely in fire atop the altar; the different types of “meal offering” (minchah) prepared with fine flour, olive oil and frankincense; the “peace offering” (shlamim), whose meat was eaten by the one bringing it, after some parts are burned on the altar and others are given to the kohanim (priests); the different types of “sin offering” (hatat) brought to atone for transgressions committed by the high priest, the entire community, the king or the ordinary community member; and the “guilt offering” (asham) brought by one who has misappropriated property of the Mishkan, (the Sanctuary), who is in doubt as to whether they transgressed some prohibition, or who has committed a “betrayal” by swearing falsely to defraud a fellow human being…
Torah of Awakening
וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְיְ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃
The Divine called to Moses
and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying…
- Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:1, 2 Parshat Vayikra
Rabbi Yitzhak Meir of Ger once asked a hasid what he had learned from the lips of Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the Kotsker Rebbe). “I heard him say,” said the hasid, “he was surprised that merely saying the blessing after eating is not enough to make a person wholly good.”
“I think differently,” said the rabbi of Ger. “I am surprised that merely eating is not enough to make a person wholly good. For it is written: יָדַ֥ע שׁוֹר֙ קֹנֵ֔הוּ וַחֲמ֖וֹר אֵב֣וּס בְּעָלָ֑יו – The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s manger…”
The rabbi of Ger speaks a profound truth – that the most sublime spiritual Reality is inherent in the most simple and mundane of human activities.
וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה – Called to Moses… The implication is that God is calling Moses, but this opening verse doesn’t say explicitly who called to Moses, it just says וַיִּקְרָ֖א Vayikra – “called.” Furthermore, the alef of Vayikra is written smaller than all the other letters. Alef has the numerical value of one, and is therefore a symbol of God, the Oneness of Being. The hint is that God is the Oneness hidden within everything, calling to us from everything, nudging us to discover the sublime hidden within the mundane. How do we do this?
אִם־עֹלָ֤ה קָרְבָּנוֹ֙ – If his offering is an “Olah” – an Elevation Offering… The Olah was unique in that it was burned completely on the altar, with nothing left over. This hints at giving ourselves entirely to the task of this moment. We tend to see this moment as a mere stepping-stone to another moment, and we are often doing one thing while our minds are somewhere else. The Olah hints that if we wish to live in an “elevated” way – that is, free from mundane stresses and worries, we paradoxically need to bring ourselves fully to the mundane. We need to “burn ourselves” completely in this moment, without leaving over part of our minds to dwell on something else. This is the practice of י yod, the Path of Simplicity.
וְנֶ֗פֶשׁ כִּֽי־תַקְרִ֞יב קָרְבַּ֤ן מִנְחָה֙ לַֽיי – When a person draws close with a “Minkha” – a gift offering to the Divine… The Minkha was a grain offering, brought by those who were not wealthy enough to bring animal offerings. This hints at the wisdom of humility and the willingness to offer of ourselves as we are able, even if we think it is inadequate, or that the work required is “below” us. It is the willingness to serve the needs of this moment, without imposing our own preconceptions. This is the practice of the sefirah of Hod, the Path of Humility.
וְאִם־זֶ֥בַח שְׁלָמִ֖ים קָרְבָּנ֑וֹ – And if the offering is a sacrifice of “Shlamim” – Peace or Wholeness… The Shlamim was brought out of gratitude and praise. It brought peace because the both priests and the ones who brought the offering enjoyed dining on it together, and this comradery brought well-being the whole world.
This hints at the practice of dedicating our actions toward universal benefit for all. When we act, we do so because we have some particular motivation. If we take a moment to dedicate our actions to universal benefit, this will give our actions and even our decision-making process a special quality of openness and generosity. This is the practice of צ tzaddi, the Path of Devotion.
וְהֵבִ֣יא אֶת־אֲשָׁמ֣וֹ לַיי – And they shall bring their “Asham” – Guilt Offering to the Divine… The fourth and fifth are the Asham and the Hatat – the “Guilt” offering and the “Sin” offering. Their purpose was to correct and make healing for wrongs committed.
It is good to remember that we have not always been perfect. Whenever we do anything, we are not acting from a clean slate, but rather we act against a hidden karmic background. Keeping this in mind will allow us to approach this moment with humility and the intention for healing whatever negativity lingers from the past. This is the practice of נ nun, the Path of Return (t’shuvah).
Remembering our own shortcomings will also help us accept what happens to us moment by moment, cleansing us from the arrogance of resisting things we don’t like – “How could this happen to me?” Instead, let us accept whatever comes; this is the practice of ו vav, the Path of Flexibility…
May we integrate these practices of yod, Hod, tzaddi, nun and vav represented by the five offerings, uncovering the Divine potential within all our activities!
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