|Parashat Vayikra: Directions and Directives|
by Aaron Kasdan
Parashat Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1–5:26
Vayikra, the deathbed of so many well-intentioned attempts to read through the entirety of the Tanakh, begins with this weeks' parasha. Animals; grains; categories; burned; cut; mixed; cooked; not the leaven; don't forget the salt; lobes; kidneys; entrails; inside the camp; outside the camp; on the altar; in an ash heap; and just how much blood is in a “sprinkle”? It's no wonder why contemporary readers find this book so perplexing: where do the concepts of animal sacrifice and ritual purity fit into our 21st century sensibilities? I'm certain this information was valuable then, but what is its import now?
In this commentary, I will not delve into the direct meanings of these individual offerings, or the continuities and augmentations of our avodah to the Lord through the work and lens of Yeshua's sacrifice. Instead, I will focus on the foundation beneath what the Lord “called” to Moses, the assumptions that we often take for granted when considering such texts. While our mode of worship may differ greatly from the practice of ancient Israel, there are certain continuous truths about the direction and directives of our worship.
First, avodah is for God.
Our service is to the Lord. When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord (Vayikra 1:2). The motive for all ritual, sacrificial, and moral instruction within scripture is God-directed. Pictured with every offering is an interaction between the individual and the Lord. ...it shall be accepted before the Lord; a pleasing aroma to the Lord; make atonement for him before the Lord; etc. It may seem too simple a lesson, but it is apparently not too evident to emphatically and repeatedly verbalize: the intent of these offerings is to facilitate Israel's relationship with the Lord, communally and individually. Our avodah is simply about our relationship with the Lord. Whether it be a facilitation of some sort (atonement), celebration and thanksgiving (firstfruits), praise or petition, all service, no matter the form, is about our relationship with God. It's possible to sing without our relationship to God in view. It's possible to refrain from sin without it being an offering of ourselves to God. It's even possible to pray without being aware of talking to the Lord. All service, is for the Lord. We are to do everything (including explicit avodah) as for the Lord. (Colossians 3:17, 23-24)
It doesn't matter what you do if it's not directed toward God.
In tandem with this is a second truth: our relationship with God needs work.
Our relationship with the Lord is in need of facilitation, maintenance, effort. There's something about this relationship that takes work, something uneven, something that needs to be addressed. We are in need of atonement, restitution, and cleansing. Why? God is holy in nature. What are we? Unclean at best, rebellious more often. Atonement is a necessity: holiness and impurity are incompatible. Grace is needed: man cannot breach the gap between ourselves and God. Grace is provided: grain, blood, and sweat are simply not eternal currency; the Lord is receiving something in exchange for something much greater. All of this adds up to one truth: the gap between us and God, which is only bridgeable by God, has been bridged out of his kindness. In no way is the blood of a goat effective atonement for sin; it just doesn't add up. What the Lord is offering to Israel is beyond what they can pay. The work that only God could do, he has done.
It doesn't matter what you do if God is not directed toward you.
Finally, we uncover a third truth: G-d has a way he desires to be worshiped.
Our service must follow God's instruction. Worship must always align with the character of the Object, and the Lord provides detailed instructions which speak to his character. Do it this way, not that way. But does it matter if the priest were to sprinkle 17 times instead of 7? Apparently, yes. Though we may not understand the symbolism and purpose of every nuance of Israel's ancient avodah, it is clear that the Lord has a certain way in which he desired to be worshiped. These instructions were not meant to be exacting: the goal in view was not a perfectly executed sacrifice, but the realization of purpose in the act of perfectly following the Lord's will. It is not a simple animal plus effort equals atonement equation; it is obedience to the Lord equals the opportunity for relationship. It is not a divine farce, a bar set unbelievably high to teach humility. It is not a guessing game, but lovingly laid out instruction for us to follow. It is participation, guided by the Lord, into a dynamic relationship with the Holy One. This requires some direction: offer your best; do not attempt to dwell in impurity and purity at the same time; live at peace with others; etc. There are rituals, instructions, guidelines, and yes, necessities to one's relationship with God. But God provides them, and assures us we can follow through. Even in the midst of human obedience, where it is hard for many to find God's grace, we see the Lord's care shine brightly.
It doesn't matter what you do if God is not directing it.
It doesn't matter what you do if it's not directed toward God: without real, focused attention on the Lord, there is no purpose to worship in any form. It doesn't matter what you do if God is not directed toward you: there is an unbridgeable gap between God and man, and our worship is testimony of his grace to bridge it. And it doesn't matter what you do if God is not directing it: our obedience is meant to direct us to God's provision, not to instill regulation to our worship, but to lead us to relationship in service. The motive (for God), the means (grace from God), and the method (God's direction) all add up to a beautiful picture: God not only cares for our avodah, but cares for us in it.