Posted by: Steve Coplan | April 1, 2006

Parsha of the week

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is by far the most accessible and erudite contemporary commentators on Judaism, just as likely to quote Kant as Jeremiah. In his commentary on this week’s parsha Vayikra – the portion of the Torah read this Saturday in Jewish houses of worship – Rabbi Sacks looks at why reading about Temple sacrifices has any relevance two thousand years after its destruction by the Romans. Other rabbis suggest that the passages have relevance since Jews should act as if any day now the Temple rebuilt, and they should be prepared to fulfill the mitzvoth associated with the Temple ritual. Rabbi Sacks, fortunately, doesn’t go in for this type of millenarian mumbo jumbo, instead proposing a more philosophical approach to the question of why it has some significance, and by extension the underlying purpose of the Torah. Noting that the Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban, based on the root for ‘close (to)’, Sacks argues that: “The key element is not so much giving something up (the usual meaning of sacrifice) but rather bringing something close to G-d.” In that sense, sacrifice should be interpreted as a symbolic act that invokes metaphors of our own base instincts. But by sacrificing or giving them up, we remind ourselves of our moral consciousness and spiritual awareness (what could be referred to as a soul) by virtue of being human beings. Sacrifice is therefore is a metaphor then for transcending our animal instincts and recognizing our spiritual dimension. Of course, the reason why I find this interpretation so appealing is because it’s pretty similar to the one I proposed for kashrut.

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