Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
For the first time in history, we read most of the book of Vayikra outside of the synagogue. This Shabbat we conclude the reading with two Torah portions – BeHar and BeChukotai – before starting the book of Devarim next week. The entire world may be frozen but the pulse of Torah does not stop.
So what have we gone through during the time of the world plague? 10 Torah portions with 859 verses. We dealt with setting up the Mishkan (sanctuary) and laws surrounding the sacrifices, with lashon hara and gossip, with birth and death, with Shabbat and festivals, with marriage and with education, and more and still more.
Some of these things are relevant if not urgent (“and you shall love your fellow as yourself”) and some are so distant that they are difficult to grasp. We encountered again and again a word that it is difficult to explain in the year 2020 – holiness. The book of Vayikra presents a world in which there is holy and there is impure, there is proper and there is improper, there is permitted and there is forbidden. A book of borders.
And while reading this book, into our own world lacking borders, restrictions were suddenly introduced. How much similarity there is between the laws of impurity and purification and the new protective practices in our own lives: isolation and lockdown, social distancing, taking every human contact seriously, hand washing, keeping the mouth closed.
This is not an easy book. The American writer Herman Wouk once wrote that if they were to turn the Bible into a literary work, they would leave out the this book. “But Jews never deleted a single word from the Torah,” he wrote. “The sanctuary building plan and the splitting of the Red Sea are of equal value.”
True, it’s more gripping to read the book of Genesis with the stories of our forefathers or the book of Exodus with the story of leaving Egypt. The book of Leviticus challenges us. It is a test of faith and of connection and on Shabbat morning – the test will come to an end. Let’s hope that we will be able to read the book of Bamidbar gathered together and in good health.
Chazak, Chazak, Venitchazek.