Tazria

“Please do not reply to this automated message. The mailbox is not monitored.”

By Rabbi Joshua Hoffman

Making an offering to something indeterminate is a profound expression of confidence. How do you know if the offering was accepted? I think of sharing feedback on a survey a company sent to me after I used their service, or when I made donations to an organization only to receive the automatic reply message once the transaction was complete. The message was received, but how will I know if it made a difference?

The book of Leviticus and this week’s portion in particular, outlines the process of making a variety of offerings to God, from gratitude to forgiveness, and from healing to hope. The presence of the priest as a mediator between the individual and YHVH is carefully explained here. There were no automatic message replies in ancient Israel. The priest’s responsibility to serve as a conduit of divine connection is essential to the penitent’s sacrifice. If YHVH is a collective expression of the people, the priests are the representatives of the will to connect. It matters how we bring our offerings to others, too.

When the offerings are an expression of thanksgiving, they are the recognition that an experience of abundance is far greater than one expected to receive. When the offerings are an attempt to take responsibility for harm caused to another or to God, the offerings are an acceptance and the sacrifice is an act that affirms that more is necessary.

This section of the book takes on purity as a prerequisite of sacred worship, too. Beyond the social dimensions or hygienic benefits or maintaining a certain form of bodily cleanliness, there are spiritual dimensions of purity. The primary function of laws of purity is not to exclude an individual from participating in the ritual life of the community. Individual impurities (childbirth, menstruation, or unusual baldness), communal impurities (leprosy or other communicable diseases), and ultimately social impurities (forbidden relationships) do not elicit questions of clarification or uncertain definitions of what disqualifies a person from participating in sacrificial worship. There is a presumption here that the experience of separation is a precursor to closeness, even intimacy. If the connection to God is mediated through the connection to the priest, then the purity of our relationship with the priests, with others who help us connect with YHVH is equally sacred.

After thousands of years of studying a culture of worship that no longer exists in practice, seeking purity to encounter YHVH is a necessary dimension of religious continuity. The limits of our physicality may have expanded and contracted throughout the ages, but the commitment to stand unimpeded before some greater or ultimate source of life is affirmative. Indeed, it is the highest form of spiritual quest. These chapters remind us that such a journey is never taken alone.