Vayikra 5771

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Josh Seed

This Shabbat we begin reading the book of Vayikra, the third book of the Chumash. Interestingly, Vayikra also carries a second name of Torat Kohanim – the Laws of the Priests. This is undoubtedly because of the book’s focus on sacrifices as can be seen in the very beginning of Parashat Vayikra. The portion begins, “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.” (Vayikra 1:1-2)

In these two verses, Moses speaks to the children of Israel instructing them on the details for making offerings in the Mishkan. The Mishkan or tabernacle was seen as the portable dwelling place for God from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan. It would eventually be replaced by a more permanent structure, the First Temple in Jerusalem. This begs an important question. How are we to fulfill the commandment to perform sacrifices today without the Mishkan or Holy Temple in existence? The simplest answer the rabbis give is to praise God through prayer but I believe that this is only one of many possible explanations.

The Talmud teaches, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – All Israel is responsible for one another.” Through Gemilut Chassadim, acts of charity and loving-kindness, we too can find a way to worship God. As Jews, we have a responsibility to ensure that the members of our community are looked after. Whether this is the poor or sick, we must work to meet the needs of one another. One particular member of our community who now needs our assistance is Jonathan Pollard.

Jonathan Pollard was working as an American Naval intelligence analyst in the 1980s when he discovered that information vital to Israel’s security was being deliberately withheld by the U.S. Jonathan was painfully aware that Israeli lives were being put in jeopardy as a result of this intelligence embargo. He did everything he possibly could to have the legal flow of information to Israel restored. When his efforts met no success, he began to give the information to Israel directly. In 1985, his actions were discovered by the U.S. government. He received a life sentence and a recommendation that he never be paroled. To date, Jonathan has been in captivity for 26 long years.

Recent developments to secure Jonathan’s freedom show a small glimmer of hope. In early January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to American President Barak Obama officially requesting that he grant Jonathan clemency. His letter has since been joined by countless American politicians. As we approach the holiday of Pesach when we celebrate our freedom from Egypt, we pray that this be the last Pesach in captivity for Jonathan Pollard.