Address: 91 Leinster St, Saint John, NB E2L 1J2

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D’var Torah Vayikra

Parashat Vayikra—Parshat Zachor

March 23, 2024 | 13 Adar II 5784

Torah: Leviticus 1:1–5:26 Triennial: Leviticus 3:1–4:26

Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17–19 Haftarah: I Samuel 15:2–34

We believe that in times of great strife, words of Torah can provide stability and comfort in our lives.

We know that you join us in praying for the safety of our soldiers and citizens, and that together we mourn the terrible losses already suffered.

The We stand together for a strong and secure Israel.

 

Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:
For those who are keeping track, our chumash takes exception to the Haftarah listed above and references Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23.
As my grandson’s name is Samuel, I took notice.

Don’t Burn the Honey
Bex Stern-Rosenblatt
Parashah

The majority of our parashah is addressed to us, to all of us, the Israelite people. We are all included in the ability to give, in the requirement to sacrifice. Each of us is referenced, no one receives an exemption, with the words: “when anyone from among you offers a sacrifice to God.”  There are different ways to offer, different strata of sacrifice depending on the ability of the one giving. Nonetheless, the thing that makes us us, the thing that binds us in relationship to God and to each other is that each of us is required to offer korbanot.

There is, however, a place in the parashah where the language shifts. Instead of being addressed to a singular you, meaning each of us, it is addressed to a plural you, meaning the priests. Of course, next week’s parashah will be addressed largely to the priests, repeating the information of this week’s parashah for them. But in our parashah, there is one moment where they are specifically addressed. We read: “Any grain offering that you bring forward to the Lord shall not be made leavened, for you shall not turn to smoke any leaven nor any honey from it as a fire offering to the Lord. You may bring them forward to the Lord as an offering of first yield, but they shall not go up on the altar as a fragrant odor.”

The priests are called in as experts, as witnesses, as judges to confirm that this specific minhah, grain offering, is presented carefully. It is important enough, or has enough potential to cause harm, that we need leaders to ensure we do it correctly. The priests are called into action to ensure our correct action and also to protect us and God from each other.

The harm seems to have to do with the incorrect offering of leaven and honey. Neither may be burnt as an offering to God, although both may be given to God as an offering. It is unclear what about either of them or both of them prevents them from being offered to God. It is unclear what makes the prevention of their being burned so important that the priests need to be called in to double check our work.

There are a few theories, a few attempts at explanation. Rambam writes of the use of leavened bread and honey in foreign worship and claims we were trying to distance ourselves from idolatry. Yet much of what we offer and how we offer is very similar to the ways in which the surrounding nations offer sacrifices.

Some, including Jacob Milgrom, claim that yeast and honey are both agents of fermentation, which symbolizes death and decay. Our God commands us to choose life and God’s dwelling place is all about fulfilling that order, separating death from life. As such, we could not possibly offer a fermented substance to God. The problem with this theory, of course, is that the next verse confirms that it is completely fine to offer leaven and honey to God, just not as a burnt offering to smell nice.

Anthropologist Mary Douglas offers a very different read of honey and yeast as agents of fermentation. She sees fermentation as an act of creation done by humans, as opposed to the natural creation done by God. According to her, we are supposed to offer back to God only those natural products which God has created. We are not supposed to try to impress God with our sourdough starters. Her theory, however, shares the same problem as Milgrom’s.

My favorite theory is a symbolic read, connecting this burnt offering to Pesach. Pesach is a time in which leavening is forbidden. The giving of the minhah then reminds us of our Exodus, helps us to remember the steps we took in concert with God to get out of Egypt. Likewise, honey features in the Exodus story. We are being taken out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. Honey is the promise, the thing we long for, the thing God will give to us. Moreover, the very manna which God provided to us tasted like honey.

In giving our offering, in the sacrifice each of us is called to make and to burn, we are required only to relive the Exodus; to remember the bitterness, the lack, and our deliverance from it. We are not required to give away our honey and our yeast. We do not need to sacrifice the promise of our homeland and the hope for a better future. When we are tempted to do just that, or when it feels like we must do just that, the priests are required to intervene. They are required to stop us from offering a greater korban than we can bear.

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Address: 91 Leinster St,
Saint John, NB, E2L 1J2
Phone: (506) 657-4790
Email: info@shaareizedeksaintjohn.ca
Mailing Address:P.O. BOX 2041
Saint John, NB,  E2L 3T5

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