Video of the service:
My portion, Vayikra, describes an ancient system of worship that seems very strange and is not at all like the way we worship today. For one thing, the main feature was the killing of animals offered to the priests by the Israelites. This might seem merciless, but most of these animals were then cooked and eaten by the priests. Jerusalem must have like seemed like the world’s biggest barbecue place – which all you meat eaters can appreciate.
Still, killing animals doesn’t seem like the best way to run a religious service. I’m glad we don’t do it anymore. And so is my dog, Biscuit.
This system ended when the second temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE.
When that happened, everything changed dramatically. The old leaders, the Cohanim, no longer served a purpose, because the sacrifices could not continue. So, a new form of worship was created – prayer.
And new places to pray, synagogues.
And new leaders – rabbis.
And the most important object was not the animal or the altar – but the Torah, which could be taken anywhere. So, Jews could form communities everywhere.
At that moment, Judaism changed completely.
But here’s the point. We don’t do them, but we still remember the sacrifices, and we recall them in many ways in our rituals. Some people actually do want to bring them back – but we’re not going to go there.
Why don’t I love the idea of animal sacrifices? I must confess, I am an animal lover. Biscuit, who unfortunately couldn’t be here today, would agree with me that sacrifices and shedding blood in a place of worship are not a good idea. So I’m glad we moved on to different things, like prayer, a little bit of wine and delicious hallah.
I don’t understand why God would accept the gift of a sacrifice of one of God’s own children. And yes, I think animals are also God’s children, just like we are. I think we were all created in God’s image – we just happen to be in the form of God’s most evolved image.
And even more than that; since I think of a soul as a form of consciousness, I believe that animals have that too. They are also sentient beings who can think and act. It’s hard to believe that God would have wanted one of his creatures killed as a gift. In fact, rather than sacrificing animals, my mitzvah is to help animals in need of help. In honor of Biscuit, I am donating money to ROAR, the Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue.
Fortunately, we’ve been able to adapt and change from the ancient system of worship.
The prayers and Torah and haftarah readings that I am leading, are just as powerful in their own way as the old sacrifices used to be. And there’s a lot less to clean up. But at the same time, I realize that new forms of Judaism may evolve over the coming years. In a real sense, I am where the past and future come together.
As I am the connection between past and future, so is every other Jew. Each of us can make meaningful choices and changes to Judaism and wider world.
While Judaism is nothing like it was back in temple times and nothing like it will be in another thousand years, there is something that links it all together – and right now that thing is me.
Even here at Beth El, my family forms a link that has lasted for five generations. And who knows, maybe in a hundred years, someone from my family will be standing right here – another generation coming up to the Torah.As I become a bar mitzvah today, I realize that Judaism is forever changing, dor l’dor, as they say in Hebrew, and today I take my place at the forefront of a new generation.