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Taste of Torah: Vayikra

This week we begin a new book of the Torah, marking the end of Exodus narrative and diving deep into the Israelite’s need to create structure in their new reality as a nomadic people. Here, we begin to explore the structures around the sacrificial rites. In the first two verses of this parashah, we see the parameters around offerings to God in the Ohel Moed—the Tent of Meeting:

וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃

דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם אָדָ֗ם כִּֽי־יַקְרִ֥יב מִכֶּ֛ם קָרְבָּ֖ן לַֽיהוָ֑ה מִן־הַבְּהֵמָ֗ה מִן־הַבָּקָר֙ וּמִן־הַצֹּ֔אן תַּקְרִ֖יבוּ אֶת־קָרְבַּנְכֶֽם׃

And God called to Moses; and God spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: A person who shall bring near of you an offering to God, of the cattle, of the herd and of the flock shall you bring near your offering…

Our sages were perplexed by the use of the phrase “near of you.” Why not simply say near, or near to God? In searching for meaning around this curious phrasing, hassidic master Rabbi Sholom Dovbear of Lubavitch writes: A person who shall bring near of you an offering to God (1:2).

The verse does not say “a person of you who shall bring near an offering,” but “a person who shall bring near of you an offering”—the offering must come from within the person. It is the animal within the person that must be “brought near” and elevated by the Divine fire upon the altar.

According to this midrash, the act of sacrifice is not simply to make the offering—but to offer of oneself, digging deeper inside to seek that which one may offer. In this difficult moment, when coming into physical proximity with one another for prayer and ritual is not possible, perhaps we may draw comfort from this teaching: that an essential piece of the sacrificial act is the profoundly powerful inner work of discovering that which may be brought near.