Saturday, 01 Apr 2017

Written by Igor Zinkov

Parashat Vayikra

16 years ago, in February 2001, a group of software developers came together and defined a manifesto for encouraging better ways of developing software, and then, based on that manifesto, formulated a collection of principles which defines the criteria for agile software development processes

Manifesto for Agile Software Development [1]

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration and responding to change are juxtaposed here to processes and tools, comprehensive documentation, contract negotiation and following a plan. According to the manifesto, the former list should have a higher priority over the later one. Interestingly enough, all the words from the ‘bad, inefficient’ list do not necessarily have a negative connotation on their own. However, when they come together and are put into an extreme form, it becomes a stumbling block on the way to productive and efficient work. This is a good example of how a set of fair rules may lead to an opposite result and how sometimes it’s important to rethink the system in order to make it work better.

This week’s Torah portion has very detailed instructions of Temple sacrifices. The text is full of descriptions, numbers, types of transgressions and types of sacrifices one should bring in order to ‘cover’ his or her sin.

Let us consider the following questions: Is reading about sacrifices relevant for us today? Why do we need to learn, justify and explain different types of sacrifices? Do we read it because we want the Temple to be rebuilt?

Maimonides, for example, expressed the idea that Temple service is a lower level of worship than prayer is. Furthermore, he goes one step further and writes in The Guide for the Perplexed about the highest level of human worship to God:

The idea is best expressed in the book of Psalms, “Silence is praise to Thee” (Ps 65). It is a very expressive remark on this subject; for whatever we utter with the intention of extolling and of praising Him, contains something that cannot be applied to God, and includes derogatory expressions; it is therefore more becoming to be silent, and to be content with intellectual reflection. [2]

As we can see, not all Jews have always wanted to rebuild the Temple. Even some prominent Rabbis, like Rambam, were skeptical about it and were ready to move on, develop our tradition and turn the whole institute of Jewish prayer into a silent contemplation and reflective meditation. Worth noting also that in many other cases Maimonides was very conservative and was against rapid and radical changes, but not in the case of the Temple.

However, when the poll, commissioned by the Joint Forum of Temple Mount Organizations, asked Israeli Jews, “Are you for or against erecting a Temple on the Temple Mount?” 30 per cent answered in the affirmative, while 45 percent were against and 25 percent said they were not sure. [3]

Only 45 percent of Israeli Jews were ready to express their negative attitude towards rebuilding the Temple. It means that this week’s Torah portion is not just relevant for the other 55 percent of Israeli Jews, but they may read it as an instruction. It means that they don’t mind going back 2000 years, and being part of a culture where animal sacrifices were the main way of religious worship.

It seems that there is a tendency in our world today to come back to authenticity. The world is trying to seek its roots in the past. It’s become a trend now to look at history and try to return to where we once were. I think that religion plays a significant role in it. There is Jewish principal ‘yeridat hadorot’ which means ‘descent of generations’. According to it, the further we are from the generation of Receiving the Torah the less knowledge we have and less authority we have to bring a change to our tradition. However, there is another Jewish principal ‘Aliyat Hadorot’, ‘ascent of generations’, according to which every further generation has more authority since its opinion is based on the previous experience of all generations before.

I think we can learn and take wisdom from both principles. We can be respectful to our tradition but at the same time we can try to be open to changes and developments of modern life.

Let’s have another look at our Torah portion. The book of Leviticus opens with the verse:

The Eternal One called unto Moses, and spoke to him from of the tent of meeting (Lev. 1:1)

Targum Pseudo Jonathan translates the same verse into Aramaic with a significant addition:

And it was when Moses had completed to erect the tabernacle… the Word of the Lord was altogether with him, from the tent of meeting

Did Moses erect the tabernacle? Did he physically do that by himself? It echoes with an earlier verse, when Moses is commanded the following:

You shall set up the tabernacle according to its plan, which you were shown on the mountain. (Ex. 26:30)

Some commentators pointed out that Moses himself is commanded here to take an active role in building the tabernacle. I suppose that even nowadays one wouldn’t see very often a scene where a big boss is doing the work of a simple worker. Yet isn’t it a wonderful illustrative example of a flat organisational structure when individuals and collaborative interactions are valued more than hierarchical procedures? Sometimes just a nuance in the text can be more significant and relevant for us than the entire system of prescriptive laws.

Coming back to the Agile software development manifesto, perhaps we can take it to other areas of life and learn from it. Paraphrasing it, we may come up with manifesto of our future:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working results over bureaucracy

People’s collaboration over formal procedures

Responding to change over following a plan.


Student rabbi Igor Zinkov



[2] Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, chapter 59

[3] read more:

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.