Emor: Great Source(s)

One great bunch of reflections on the omer…

And you shall count from the morrow of the sabbath, from the day you bring the elevation sheaf [omer], seven whole weeks shall they be. Until the morrow of the seventh sabbath you shall count fifty days, and you shall bring forward a new grain offering to the LORD. — Leviticus/Vayikra 23:15-16…

is “Fablog: The Omer,” which serves as gateway to thoughts from many sources: statistical, kabbalistical, logistical; contemporary, ancient and in-between. Daily posts have so far included a number of local voices, plus words of Sonia Sanchez, Joseph Soloveitchik, Toni Morrison, Hoyt Axton, Simon Jacobson, Yehuda Amichai, the Velveteen Rabbi, Hillel and others.
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Sacrifice and Womb: Pursuing Connections

One of the reasons I started the “Opening the Book” blog series was my belief that the plethora of dvrei torah (plural of dvar [word] of Torah]) on the internet, as well as in print, doesn’t necessarily help anyone who is trying to prepare a dvar torah of their own, at least at the outset.

The mere quantity can seem daunting: With search engines returning over 19,000 hits on “Vayikra dvar torah,” it might seem there is simply nothing more to say (“Vayikra” alone draws over 100,000 hits). Those 19,000 hits, in turn, point to a raft of sources, which can seem overwhelming instead of encouraging.

There are terrific resources — text, hypertext, audio and video — on the web (see, e.g., On-Line Learning). But a strategy more contained than Googling or Binging the Torah portion can be helpful.
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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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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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Armstrong’s Case for God

Religion is hard work. Its insights are not self-evident and have to be cultivated in the same way as an appreciation of art, music or poetry must be developed….

…Religion was not something tacked on to the human consciousness, an optional extra imposed on people by unscrupulous priests. The desire to cultivate a sense of the transcendent may be the defining human characteristic.

…Before the modern period, most men and women were naturally inclined to religion and were prepared to work at it. Today many of us are no longer willing to make this effort, so the old myths seem arbitrary and remote, and in incredible.

Like art, the truths of religion require the disciplined cultivation of a different mode of consciousness. The cave experience [described in a chapter on religious practices of 30,000 to 1500 BCE] always began with the disorientation of utter darkness which annihilated normal habits of mind. Human beings are so constituted that periodically they seek out ekstatis, a “stepping outside” the norm. Today people who no longer find it in a religious setting resort to other outlets: music, dance, art, sex, drugs, or sport. We make a point of seeking out these experiences that touch us deeply within and lift us momentarily beyond ourselves. At such times we feel that we inhabit our humanity more fully than usual experience an enhancement of being. Continue Reading