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Vayikra 5775 – The Levitical Lens

I am sad. I am disillusioned. I am angry. It is not that the recent Israeli election changed the status quo. There will be a similar ratio of a ruling ‘conservative’ block and an opposing ‘liberal’ one. It is not even that there were any true surprises coming from Prime Minister Netanyahu — he was manipulative, combative, parochial and … consistent. My sadness, disillusion and anger result from how his efforts were rewarded by the electorate. This response gave him – at least in the context of Israeli politics – a landslide victory. It is a harsh reminder of the kind of rigidity, chauvinism and myopia that has Israel’s present and future in what is akin to a death grip.

How fitting for me that the mysterious machinations of our spiritual tradition would present the beginning of the book of Leviticus as the Torah lens for me to reflect on these feelings. Each year as we are confronted by Leviticus’ antiquated and anachronistic notions and practices: ardous sacrificial offerings; an officious and domineering priestly caste and all the graphic descriptions of how’s, what’s, when’s and who’s involved. Yes, we endeavor (with moderate success) to translate the sacrificial system into some mythic and metaphorical meaning. At the end of the day – no matter the eloquence of our transformative tale – we have no problem rejecting the relevance of these obligations and relegating them to their appropriate place in our past. I became a Reform Jew – because I was drawn to this willingness to unashamedly, unabashedly and respectfully leave such attitudes and practices where they belong – in our past.

Using this levitical lens, I examine these elections and the things that are said, done or promised to be done in the name of Judaism. With the same vehemence with which I reject the relevance of sacrifices in our present and future view of the world, I am compelled to reject these narrow (Mitzrayim like?) attitudes toward other human beings — no matter how one may label these human beings: Arabs, Israeli Arab Citizens or Palestinians. I am compelled to reject such attitudes that embrace a supposed divine promise for a swath of land while negating the actual divine gifts of compassion, justice and peace.

No, the election has not changed the status quo in the Knesset, the Israeli electorate or even Prime Minister Netanyahu. The election, however, has changed me.

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