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Friday, March 19, 2010

Poetic Commentary on Parshat Vayikra

     This week we begin the third book of the Torah, Vayikra/Leviticus with the reading of parshat Vayikra (each book of the Torah and the first parasha/portion of that book always bear the same name).
      Vayikra means “and he (God) called.”  It is easy for us to hear the call of the Divine when reading about the journeys of the patriarchs and matriarchs or the ordeals of the slaves and their exodus from Egypt.  But to hear God’s call in the description of sacrifices is not an easy task!  And yet Vayikra is about more than just sacrifices and laws.  At the core of Vayikra is the sacrificial system that is meant to connect the people with the Divine.
      In the first third of this parashah, which is what is read in many congregations this Shabbat, we read first of the Olah, the burnt offering, or literally “that which rises up.”  These were sacrifices in which the entire animal, after being ritually slaughtered was burned on the altar.  This differed from other sacrifices where part of the animal was saved as a sacred meal for the priests and the worshipers. 
      Most communal sacrifices were olot – burnt offerings.  The community would give the priests beasts and birds that belonged to them and watch them as they were sacrificed to God on the altar, watching the smoke rise up to God with a reyakh nee’khoah – pleasant odor.
      The minchah, or grain offering then followed the olot.  Here, grain was mixed with oil and spices and presented either in a cooked or uncooked form to the priest.  It was then burnt on the altar.  However, the text makes clear that no leaven and no honey may be used in the minchah offering.  We do not know if this is in any way connected with the later rabbinic association of leaven with pride, hubris, and ego, but this is certainly a connection that I possible interpretation.
     The following poem is broken up into seven portions. Each portion corresponds to one of the seven aliyot (individual Torah readings) read this Shabbat according to the breakdown of the Conservative movement in the USA.
Shabbat Shalom,


Hearing the Divine Call

Aliyah 1
I hear God’s call           
my sacrifice
my self
perfect    unblemished


I am not
I am filled with blemishes


I must

from that
iImust sacrifice
to God

aliyah 2

my offering
goes up in flames
before my eyes

am consumed
my soul
the smoke
     my soul
            our soul
the soul
to it’s source

the scent of teshuvah
is in the air
pleasing God
the divine smile
into my heart

aliyah 3

more sacrifice
more violence

the smells
            the sounds

I want to run

how could God desire
such sacrifice

how could God not

true sacrifice
is not easy    simple     pretty
true sacrifice
of the self
before God
is difficult   painful
yet necessary

I want to run

from the pain
from the noise
to somewhere pleasant 
           somewhere safe
                 somewhere simple

if only it really existed
thank God it does not

aliyah 4

sacrifice continues
            I do not run           
I do not hide
            my eyes
            my heart
            my soul
from what is

the priest
            conduit between us and God
takes our offerings
            and kills them
my flocks
            my birds
                        my possessions
are no more

were they ever
really mine


they were Gods
as they still are


each time
            i see
one rise in smoke to God
            i feel
a piece of my self
            die with it
            and rise
            back to God

in my heart
I hear God saying
welcome home

aliyah 5

no more death
of animals
            of the self
it is finished

I have given all I can to God
            for now

then suddenly I smell
            something sweet
            something pleasant
mingled with the acrid smell
            of sacrifice

like fresh bread baking
            the smell of home
                        or hearth
            of safety
of security

this is something i can live with
            I can enjoy
I hope
it will never

aliyah 6

that wondrous smell
tempting me
hunger desire arising
            within me
I am ready to eat
            to devour
        the bread
    staff of life
source of my sustainance

but wait

the smell is changing
from sweet to acrid
pleasant to noxious
soothing to burning

the bread is burning
turned to smoke
on the altar

I wanted it
we all did

but of course
it is not
for us
it is
for God

I am in pain
my desire unfulfilled

I mourn the loss
of something
            I never had
            that was never mine

then i remember
is what
it’s all about


gain and loss
pain and pleasure
criticism and praise
recognition and invisibility

all illusions
            never real
            never mine
like the bread
they are here
            bringing joy
               that is not real joy
they are gone
            bringing pain
                that feels all too real

what is real
what is here
is simply

aliyah 7

and so I offer to God
            my meal
            my grain
            my source
            my soul

I do not bring
            leavened bread
for it is no more
            if it ever was

I do not bring
            the sweetness
            that hides the pain           
                        that is real
            like honey masks
                        the bitterness
            we are meant to taste

I simply bring
            what is real
            all that i am
            no judgements
            no facades
            no illusions
just all that I am
            that is part of you
            part of God
            part of the world

a particle of the smoke
            rising from the altar
of life
            returning to the source
of life

I hear the call
            the my heart
I see the smoke rise to God
            my soul rejoices

and together
            we all
sing praise

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