Parashat Vayikra (“and God called”) is a challenging text. This portion deals with animal sacrifices – certainly not an area that any of us are familiar with as part of our daily lives. However, they were very important to the people who lived in the ancient world. When we read this portion, we are given very specific instructions as to why to make the sacrifice, when to do it, what it should consist of, how to present it and who is able to present it. This information was shared with all the people, which was interesting, since the priests had ultimate control over the altar and the sacrifices. The rules were intended to apply equally to men and women, so women were expected to bring offerings, as well as the men. This is just one instance in which women were able to participate in religious activities.
The sacrifices were seen as one way in which to approach God. One commentator suggests “when we want to draw close to God, we must offer something of our own, that is, our ‘evil inclination’”. So in our day, when we don’t offer up animals, what does this mean to us?
I would suggest that the work we do as part of WRJ is our “offering” – our way of drawing closer to God. One of the main purposes of WRJ is to promote Progressive Jewish values around the world. So, through our work in educating, advocating, empowering and generally attempting to engage women, I believe that we are able to draw closer to God. Whether our efforts are on the sisterhood level (perhaps bringing meals to an organization that helps distribute them to those in need), the district level (collecting items at an Area Day to donate to children in homeless shelters) or on the national level (supporting WRJ by donating to specific funds, such as the YES Fund, joining advocacy efforts and meeting with and helping sisterhoods), we are working towards tikkun olam, repairing the world, and what could be better than that?
And on another level, I think we derive something from doing these things, just as people who lived long ago derived something from bringing their sacrifices to the priests. As an adult, I understand how important it is to do mitzvot. When I do something “good”, I know that I am helping to support our world and draw closer to God. And, in a way, I can say that I make my own “sacrifices” – through the donation of my time and money to WRJ. So maybe we can say that even in this day and age, we are still making sacrifices, even if they are quite different from those of our ancestors.
(Thanks to The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, for help with understanding this Parashah and giving me a lot to think about.)
Vivian Blumstein is on the WRJ Board and is the President of Northeast District.