This week’s Torah reading are the first chapters of the Book of Leviticus…but that’s not the name of the book! It is in the actual name that we find a message for all of us.
Called “Leviticus”, this Latin name for the book is based on the fact that the majority of the book deals with the practices and behavior of the Levites and the sub-sect of Cohanim. The Levites (descended from Jacob’s son Levi) are responsible for all the ritualistic aspects of Jewish practices. Those few descended from Moses’ brother Aaron (also descended from the tribe of Levi) have even more special obligations and responsibilities in Jewish ritual, including redeeming the firstborn and the Priestly Benediction.
To be one of the Cohanim is to be a “priest of Israel”, and is traditionally passed father to son (women are not Cohanim). This is not patriarchal, but a theological expression of a genetic truth.
Geneticists have found that there is a DNA marker on the Y chromosome that is almost exclusively found in Cohanim, and is considered the “highest paternity certainty rate ever recorded in a population genetics study” (for an exploration of the “genetic science” of Cohanim, see https://www.aish.com/ci/sam/48936742.html?mobile=yes ). As we have been taught for over 3000 years, being a priest of Israel really is passed father to son.
But in focusing on the Levites and Cohanim through the name of “Leviticus”, we lose the real meaning and impact of this book of the Torah.
The hebrew (and correct original) name of the book and this portion in “VaYikra”, which literally means “and He called”. It is a double entendre: the Levites/Cohanim are calling to God; and God is always calling to us.
This is the teaching we need to remember, especially as we approach the Passover and season of freedom. God is always calling to each of us, whether we are a Levite or not. Always. We are always being asked by God to say “Hineni!” (I am Present!). God constantly is calling out to every individual: pleading with us to be true to our soul’s purpose. Every moment is an opportunity to answer that call. To express through our words and actions our “tikkun”…the piece of repairing the world that only we can do.
As we approach Passover, it is an especially important time to be aware of God’s calling to us. We need to constantly reevaluate our lives, especially during this auspicious time. Why we are on this earth? Is it to acquire things or to do good for others? Is it make money or spend time raising our children (and grandchildren) with good values and love.
God is always calling out to us, and too rarely do we answer that call. This week’s Torah reading is that necessary reminder that we all need: are we really doing what God wants us to do? Are we showing the courage to embrace our purpose not through thoughts, but through conscious and intentional actions?
May this week’s portion, and the upcoming holiday of Passover inspire us all to repair the piece of the world that only we can repair; to act with generosity and integrity; and to make the world a place of freedom, joy, and love.
Rabbi Michael Barclay March 19, 2021 6th of Nisan, 5781