Vayikra: A Path to Follow

And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him [Leviticus/Vayikra 1:1], why does Scripture mention the call before the speech? — The Torah teaches us good manners: a man should not address his neighbour without having first called him. This supports the view of R. Hanina, for R. Hanina said: No man shall speak to his neighbour unless he calls him first to speak to him. Rabbah said: Whence do we know that if a man had said something to his neighbor the latter must not spread the news without the informant’s telling him ‘Go and say it’? From the scriptural text: The Lord spoke to him out of the tent of meeting, lemor [saying*].
— Yoma 4b**

In his book, A Guide to Derech Eretz, Rabbi Saul Wagschal (Southfield, MI: Targum Press/Feldheim, 1993) adds:

This rule [about calling out] appears explicitly in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 246:12): A Rabbi should not be asked questions upon his entering the beis midrash; one may only approach him after he has settled down.
— Wagshal, p.66

There is a more general note on the concept of derekh eretz at My Jewish Learning. There is a great deal of information about the concept of “guarding the tongue” [shmirat ha-lashon] on the internet and in print. I have not found cites to particularly recommend, despite extensive looking; if anyone has good ones to recommend, please suggest them.

The 19th Century author Chofetz Chaim (R. Yisrael Meir Kagan) and the contemporary Joseph Telushkin famously focus on this topic. There was an article written some years back about gender considerations — does the prohibition of “evil speech” [lashon hara] effectively prohibit topics important to inter-personal and communal relationship, i.e., what was understood for centuries as “women’s speech”? — but I can’t locate the citation.


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*Footnote: “Lemor here is taken to mean ‘to say it (to others)’…
**Soncino translation of Babylonian Talmud Tractate Yoma [“the day”], from Seder Mo’ed [appointed seasons]; see Source Materials for citations and more details.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.
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Vayikra: Great Source(s)

By allowing laypersons to make their own sacrifices, under the auspices of the priests, the sacrificial laws gave people a degree of control over their spiritual lives. Inviting people into the sanctuary for the sacrifice, people felt themselves personally invited into God’s earthly home.

In essence, the system of sacrifice provided a metaphor, a method, for the Israelites to reach God, responding to the deep psychological, emotional, and religious needs of the people. Indeed, this is the meaning of the Hebrew word for “sacrifice”; it comes from a verb meaning “to bring near.”

…[Regarding contemporary animal rights concerns:] First, according to the Bible, the life of the animal was its blood (Gen 9:4). Out of respect for that life force, all biblical sources agree that it was forbidden to imbibe blood. …[one] had to return the blood to God, its divine creator, by offering the blood of sacrificial animals on the altar….

In what may seem like an ironic twist, then, these and other dietary rules are founded on the sanctity and inviolability of life. In this way, the sacrificial laws exemplify one of the most exciting characteristics of the book of Leviticus: behind the seeming arcane rituals lies a system of meaning that we can draw into our own, modern lives.
–Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics, pp17-18

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2004.

Milgrom’s book and those below provide historical and anthropological perspectives on the book of Leviticus. While academic and detailed, they can help provide some orientation for what can seem a very foreign territory: the sacrificial system.

For a different sort of orientation see “The Rationale of the Sacrifices,” from Nehama Leibovitz.

Academic Works on Leviticus

Purity and Danger. Douglas, Mary. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966. In this classic of anthropology, we learn: “Defilement is never an isolated event. It cannot occur except in a systematic ordering of ideas.” Much of the frequently referenced chapter, “The Abominations of Leviticus,” is available at Google Books. Douglas has also written other works on Leviticus and the sacrificial system.

Reading Leviticus: A Conversation with Mary Douglas. Sawyer, John F.A., ed. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996. Includes one response from another scholar, following each main paper, and subsequent discussion.

Golden Bells and Pomegranates. Visotzky, Burton L. Tuebingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2003. A study of the 5th Century CE commentary, Leviticus Rabbah.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.
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Beshalach: A Path to Follow

In a recent dvar Torah, Mimi Feigelson discusses what she calls “bracketed reading,” a technique focusing on first and last words of a passage under consideration, and applies it to the books of the Torah:

There is an extreme form of this method that I’ve developed and that is to look at the last words of a corpus of writing and ask, ‘Why has the author left us here / lead us to here?’ If you do this with exercise when looking at the five chumashim you will find that God leaves us exactly where we need to be at that moment:

The last two words of Breishit/Genesis are “ba’aron b’Mitzrayim/in a coffin in Egypt.” The entire book of B’reishit, from creation through the establishment of the household of our patriarchs and matriarchs is to lead us to the most constricted, limited, confined place – a coffin in Egypt.

The last two words of Sh’mot/Exodus is “b’chol mas’e’hem /on all of their journeys.” The book of Sh’mot constitutes our journey out of Mitzrayim and toward establishing our identity as we journey through the dessert.

The book of Vayikra/Leviticus ends with “b’har Sinai/at Mount Sinai.” The book of Vayikra teaches us the content of our covenant with God, what standing at Mount Sinai really meant.

The book of Bamidbar/Numbers concludes with “Yarden Yericho / Jordan Jericho” – this book brings us to the border of the Land of Israel. We are not there yet, but we have almost made it, we can see it from afar.

And the last book in the chumash brings us to “kol Yisrael/all of Israel” – it is here that we have all come together, finally united.

One path to follow in reading Beshalach is to consider the last words of the portion (Shemot/Exodus 17:16) — midor dor [generation to generation] — to see where they have left us and where they lead. The final words, alone, might be interpreted in one light, in terms of this portion and its connection to the Passover seder. Another path is suggested by considering the entire verse or paragraph (about eternal war with Amalek).

The remainder of Reb Mimi’s dvar Torah, written for parashat Bo (last week’s portion), centers around a teaching of R. Mordechai Joseph Leiner, the Ishbitzer Rebbe, who is also known by the title of his Torah commentary, Mei HaShiloach [Living Waters] (see Commentators page for more information). Avivah Zornberg often quotes the Ishbitzer Rebbe, and noticing those citations presents another path to follow.

Finally, I learned with Reb Mimi when she was offering a course on Mei HaShiloach and other Hasidic teachers at Drisha Institute. I recommend both teacher and institute — additional “paths” to follow, should the opportunity arise.

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Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.
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