Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom 10: Vayikra

vayikra(Leviticus 1 – 5)

It’s no surprise that, traditionally, little Jewish children begin their study of the Torah with this parsha, which details the different types of animal sacrifice. Boys would enjoy hearing how the priest used his long fingernail to separate the head of a bird from its body then wrenched off its throat, squeezed out its blood and set fire to it, whilst girls might like to colour in a picture or something.

It’s important for children to learn about sacrifices such as sin offerings and guilt offerings and crippling school fees that don’t even take into account uniform and ski trips and sports gear, which is a total waste of money when the only ball your son ever showed any interest in was a fishball. Sacrifice is a hard concept for a child. At first he may find it bloodthirsty. He may wish to “sacrifice” someone else – for instance, when another child snatches away his favourite toy or has a lesbian affair with his wife or starts getting cold feet about “Thought for the Day” because, having read a certain Rabbi’s articles in the Jewish Chronicle he’s worried this Rabbi might be a little too “Jewish”.

Hello!! It’s the Jewish Chronicle. If it were the Fat-Bottomed Ladies Who Only Wear Corduroy Chronicle I’d write about that. Which I don’t need to because, frankly, there are some excellent websites out there which have the territory pretty much covered.

The important thing is to be yourself. The Burning Bush tells Moses “I am what I am”. So does lehavdil, forgive me, one of the characters in “La Cage aux Folles” (I’m not gay). Should I compromise, sacrifice (note the word) my integrity and become more, as Jeremy the producer would say, “ecumenical”? So what if “Thought for the Day” is the only positive thing in my life at the moment? So what if I’ve already sent off those “I’m On Radio 4, You’re Not” flyers to every person who’s ever doubted me (or at least the first 500. I’m still waiting on the other three print runs). Ecumenical, ecu-shmenical. I am what I am. I ain’t gonna change!

But back to the parsha. The Hebrew for “sacrifice”, korbon, is related to korov, “near”. When we sacrifice an animal, we must draw near to it. Not literally, so we see all its blood and guts and kishkes slopping all over the place and dropping onto our shoes. But metaphorically, through compassion. Think about Christ sacrificing himself on the cross. Is there any greater image of sacrifice and compassion? I don’t think so.

Compassion – it’s not just Jewish, it’s Christian and Muslim and Hindu and also that religion where they wear turbans. Imagine you’ve entered the name of a casual, allegedly blind female acquaintance into an internet search engine for the umpteenth time. We’ve all done it. Only this time you find out she’s actually an actress in an experimental show called “Holy/Hole-E” at a fringe theatre. You want to condemn, but is she not like a leper that needs healing or Peter who was raised from the dead (or was that Lazarus)? Should you not rather turn the other cheek, turn water into wine?

It’s important to believe in compassion, forgiveness and even, at a stretch, the virgin birth. Instead of condemning, you read the blurb about her play and suddenly it all makes sense: she’s playing a blind girl who falls for a middle-aged Rabbi! Let me tell you, it happens. It’s inevitable. You’re up there on the bimah – she sees the masculine vigour of your shockeling, your payes swinging beautifully, almost in slow motion, as you chant the Amidah, those suggestive circles of perspiration under your arms as you raise the Torah scroll out of the Ark. Can there be a single Jewish woman on this earth who doesn’t find their Rabbi immensely erotic?

So let he who is without sin throw the first stone or something. As the good book says, we must suffer the little children, for the bread is the body and the wine is the blood and in the beginning was the word and the word was probably Jesus. I think.

This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle.

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