This week we are reading parashat va’Yikra, “and He called”. This opening word of our parashah is yet another instruction of God to Moses. This time it is God instructing Moses on the sacrifices that the people of Israel have to perform in the Tent of Meeting (the Ohel Mo’ed).
Within the word Mo’ed we can discern the root vav ayin Dalet, Va’ad – witness or testimony. Everyone ought to be a witness of these sacrifices, but why?
This week I am officiating at the Bat Mitzvah of a young girl who I have been teaching privately. The service to be held this weekend is an equally private service with many family and friends. I was speaking to her about what this portion meant to her and how she might relate to the intricate descriptions of various animal sacrifices in the Tent of Meeting. More specifically, we were focussing our learning on Leviticus 3: 1-10, the peace sacrifice.
One of the key elements here is that for different types of peace sacrifices different animals are used but the ritual is virtually the same. One ought to seek an unblemished animal that is sacrificed in its entirety for everyone to witness.
It is hard to bring this portion in today’s context, and not just because we do not have a Mishkan or indeed a Temple to perform these rituals in. When we consider animal sacrifices in today’s context we may feel uncomfortable by the idea that such practices are performed in a religious, ceremonial framework in order to make us humans, Jews, whole with the divine presence. And yet we are reading about these practices every year!
In this time of year wherein we are living between Purim and Pesach, we are yet again focused on what will arrive on our Seder plate. Every item on the plate has significance to our Passover story. We read about the liberation from Egypt, about the deliverance from oppression to a self-governing autonomous people. We ask ourselves questions about what slavery means in today’s terms and what freedom means to us today, and yet we rarely contemplate about the role of animals within this framework of oppression and freedom.
This brings me to the subject of Eco-Kashrut in a progressive Jewish context, how we may contemplate issues of a wider ethical and social kind. When it then comes to animal welfare Rabbi Clary Rooda asks: “[does] our food has to be without “blemish” in the sense that it does not damage the environment or exploit the workers involved in growing and picking the produce?” Her conclusion is, that the unnecessary killing of animals can be dangerous for human beings and therefore she advocates for sustainable agriculture and conscientious food choices, i.e. know what you are putting on your plate and why it is there – much like what we are doing every year when we prepare our homes and set our tables for Pesach.
Rabbi Rooda’s reading of what unblemished means, is radically different from what we read in this week’s Parashah. But as we, as progressive Jews, believe that the context of our world is shifting all the time, so do our cultural practices – so why not our religious ideas and practices too?
In the discussion with my Bat Mitzvah student we were contemplating how we could re-read this portion, and how we could give these animals (who are sacrificed) a break – and spare them in our religious observance.
We came to the conclusion that what this portion is actually telling us, is about make us whole with the divine presence, and similarly with each other as human beings and as Jews. We found that a similar strategy may be applied in correcting our mistakes with each other (without the shedding of innocent blood). When we are correcting our mistakes – or making peace with each other, our intentions ought to be genuine and purposeful. In other words, our desire to make up ought to be unblemished. It ought to be sincere and in person. All of this, we discussed, should have a sense of the Ohel Mo’ed (the Tent of Meeting) inasmuch as this desire for peace is a collective obligation rather than an individual one.
And then, after having achieved this unblemished peace ritual, it should enable us to find peace in ourselves as well so we can let it go and progress to the next stage in the relationships we create and foster.
When we are enjoying our Passover meal and when we are reading through our Haggadah, singing the songs of freedom, let us also think about the wider sustainability of our actions; our food and our own relationships with each other. Only then we can truly feel free and at peace with each other and with our environment, it shouldn’t be “a sacrifice at all”.
Peter Luijendijk LBC rabbinic student
 From Sacrifice by Elton John.
 Clary Rooda, Eco-Kashrut and Jewish tradition, How the food on our table can atone for us (October 2013) [Rabbinical thesis] 10.
 Ibidem 20.
 From Sacrifice by Elton John.