We begin the book of Leviticus this week, which, at least until we get to the Holiness Code in the middle of the book (“Love your neighbor as yourself”) can be a bit challenging to read. We are introduced to the system of sacrifices which formed the ancient system of worship, a system that has been replaced by spoken prayer and practice. And yet, while the forms are foreign, the values are not. There is deep wisdom embedded in this system.
In this week’s reading, we learn about the type of sacrifices one would offer as atonement for sin. If a person sins, they first confess their sin and then bring an offering to God:
"And they shall bring as their penalty to God, for the sin of which they are guilty, a female from the flock, sheep or goat, as a sin offering; and the priest shall make expiation on their behalf for their sin." (Leviticus 5:6)
The sacrifice for sin is a sheep or a goat. However, the Torah continues:
"But if their means do not suffice for a sheep, they shall bring to God, as their penalty for that of which they are guilty, two turtledoves or two pigeons..." (Leviticus 5:7)
And the Torah continues even further:
"And if their means do not suffice for two turtledoves or two pigeons, they shall bring as their offering for that of which they are guilty a tenth of an ephah of choice flour for a sin offering..." (Leviticus 5:11)
In other words, while the sacrifice for sin is a sheep or a goat, if you can’t afford that, then you can bring two birds. And if you can’t afford that then you can bring a measure of flour. The Torah is teaching here that whatever you can afford is an acceptable offering to atone for your sin. The Torah is teaching that regardless of your means, spirituality is accessible to you.
This first portion in Leviticus follows the last portion of the book of Exodus where we read about the building of the Tabernacle in which these sacrifices would be offered. There too the Torah describes an egalitarian system in which everyone contributed, everyone donated what they could to the creation of holy space.
This too is a part of sacred community–there should be no barrier to participation, and that everyone has something to offer.
In the practical world of contemporary Jewish community, we at Temple Beth Hatfiloh seek to embody both of these values. Like the different levels of sacrifices, one’s means is not a barrier to participation in our sacred community. And like the building of the Tabernacle, everyone has the meaningful opportunity to contribute to the growth of our congregation.
At TBH right now we have the opportunity to enact our own building of the tabernacle by showing support through the capital campaign to buy the adjacent lot. The potential purchase of the adjacent lot to our building is such a unique and exciting opportunity for our community that I’m happy to support it. The potential to supply safe parking for our community, the expansion of our footprint to allow for outdoor events, the ongoing revenue from rentals that can support our mission, and the possibility for future development are all ways that TBH can benefit from this investment. As we continue to draw closer and closer to our goal, I invite you to join me in contributing to this project. As with any campaign of this nature, we rely on people to give generously. And at the same time, as the Torah teaches, every gift is meaningful and sacred.
So while animal sacrifice as the form of worship seems alien to us, that system embodies values we can easily recognize: By all joining in together, we fulfill the vision of a sacred community in which everyone contributes and everyone benefits.
And even a parking lot is holy space.