For many, Parshat K’doshim is the high point of Leviticus. We have slogged through chapters devoted to animal sacrifice, the priesthood, various discharges and skin afflictions, and a list of forbidden sexual partners.
A journey through Tazria-M’tzora in a time of COVID-19 is revelatory. Things that never resonated before, things that seemed incomprehensible – perhaps even reprehensible – suddenly make sense.
On the eighth day after the commencement of the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests, Moses summons his brother and nephews to complete the ritual. Aaron is to present various offerings, after which Moses tells him, “Adonai will appear to you” (Lev. 9:4).
Imagine that you have just been liberated from slavery. After centuries of oppression, you and your people escape, fleeing into the unknown in hopes of a better life. Your oppressors follow you, hoping to return you to slavery, or perhaps even kill you.
The Book of Leviticus assumes that offerings of animals and grain, sometimes accompanied by libations of wine or oil, are appropriate expressions of gratitude toward God and mechanisms through which one atones for sin.
This week’s parashah, Tzav, continues the discussion of sacrifices begun in the opening chapters of Leviticus.
The Revelation on Mt. Sinai . . . the giving of the Ten Commandments . . . our Torah portion, Yitro, describes the scene with great fanfare. The text has given cinematographers plenty of good material: thunder and lightning, smoke rising up into the sky, the whole mountain shaking violently, and the loud blaring of a horn, sometimes specifically called a shofar. Miraculous? Inspiring? Awesome? Yes, our Sages teach, but it was also really, really noisy.
When the medieval rabbis read about Sinai, they focus our attention on that seemingly unimportant detail of just how loud it all must have been. One medieval commentator, the French rabbi known as Rashbam, teaches that the description of God answering Moses "in thunder" is really a metaphor about the volume of God's voice—God had to shout to be heard over all of the other noise at Sinai! (see Rashbam on Exodus 19:19). And God was shouting for good reason. "The blast [of the shofar] was louder than any sound that had ever been heard before," Rashbam's contemporary, the Spanish sage Ibn Ezra writes on Exodus 19:16.
Following the giving of the Ten Commandments in last week’s Torah portion,Parashat Mishpatim brings us a diverse collection of civil, criminal, ritual, and ethical laws. Included in the parashah is a section of text that has become relevant to a topic that is highly contested in our day.
Next month, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, a challenge to a restrictive Texas abortion law. It will be the first time in more than 20 years that the Supreme Court has heard an abortion case.