These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

ויקרא, vayikra

Posted on March 10, 2011 by Avi Strausberg

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parshat vayikra is basically consumed with the bloody details of offering korbanot (sacrifices) and sin-offerings to God.  throughout all the different variations of how we may sin and what we need to do to be forgiven, over and over, we’re instructed to lay our hands upon the animal to be sacrificed directly before its slaughter.  i wonder about the moment when the sinner lays his hands upon the shaking, scared animal that is about to be killed on the sinner’s behalf.

the parsha moves between two seemingly contradictory energies.  on one hand, we offer up these korbanot and sin-offerings as a way of gaining forgiveness and achieving intimacy with God.  through these offerings, we are able to stay in dynamic relationship with our guilt, turning to God when we become aware of our sin and finding forgiveness at the priest’s hands.  however, at the same time, the means towards this connection with God relies on the violent slaughter of the sacrificed animals.  the descriptions themselves are gory, detailing how to flay and cut the meat, lay out all of their entrails, and dash their blood against the altar.

on first reading, the “slaughter an animal, find forgiveness” system seemed too symplistic for me.   however, perhaps the point of all the gory details is to demand that the sinner be intimately involved with the blood of the animal.  you don’t just drop off the animal, leave it all to the priest, and walk away scot-free.  rather, if you want to reach God, if you want to achieve intimacy, you have to get your hands dirty yourself.   you, yourself, have to lay your hands on the animal that will die for your guilt.  and you, yourself, must watch as his body is completely torn apart and offered toward God in order to free you from your sin.

get out of jail free.
just lay your hands on his head,
look him in the eyes,

and say, “i will live,
with your death, i’m forgiven.
i’m sure he won’t mind.

 may we be honest about our own wrongdoings and find ways to move past the guilt,