We begin the third book of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus. This is the book that is much concerned with the pursuit of holiness in every aspect of our lives. It is in this book that we learn that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself;” and also here where we come upon some of our loftiest commandments concerning our treatment of the poor and the weak of our society, the establishment of just and fair courts of law, our treatment of animals, and caring responsibly for our environment.
We are told about the animal sacrifices which were brought to the altar of the sanctuary. In Hebrew, the word for an animal sacrifice is korban, derived from a word that means “to draw near.” And so was the sacrifice a means of drawing near to God; a means of expressing thanksgiving or atonement or ongoing devotion to God.
In the year 70 the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome and so did animal sacrifices come to an end in Jewish life. But there is an interesting rabbinic discussion about that episode. As the rabbis were looking at the burning temple, one of them declared: “Woe unto us, for we have lost our means of drawing close to God.” And it was the answer that another of our sages gave this rabbi that signaled a renewed expression of Judaism. This rabbi declared “that now that the Temple has been destroyed, we have a new and higher way of drawing close to God, and that is through acts of loving-kindness.”
No more animal sacrifices in Jewish life: only human actions of kindness and caring which cause the Divine presence to be felt in our midst. So may each of us cause that “presence” to be felt through our actions of reaching love and compassion beyond ourselves. Then will God’s presence be felt.