As we journey into a new book of the Torah, we delve into the complex world of korbanot — sacrifices. In Tractate Erchin (11a), there is a beautiful debate about the role of the Levites’ song when bringing sacrifices. Is it an inseparable aspect of the Temple service? If you do not bring your sacrifice to the soundtrack of sacred song, does it even count? Are you even yotzei the mitzvah? The Sages argue many different opinions, but ultimately conclude that a sacrifice is still considered kosher, even without the Levites’ niggunim.
Over the past year, the melodies that give meaning to our lives have been muffled by static sounds that seem far more pressing. Family and community, schedule and balance, health and financial security – all of these precious gifts we once took for granted were unexpectedly stolen from us, replaced by stress, fear, and anxiety. Our sources of strength – even the simple things, like seeing each other smile – have run dry.
But we are on the cusp of change, cautiously preparing to step back out into the light and see what has become of the world. When we shake off the dust, we will also reveal what lies beneath. Who have we become over the past year? How have our experiences changed our lives?
As we all know, even the darkest storm clouds have a silver lining. Within the upheaval, many of us merited moments of great clarity. We reevaluated all that was and reimagined all that could be. Amidst the pained yearning to return to normalcy, there was a simultaneous realization that perhaps the saddest thing would be if we simply went back to life as it was before. It wasn’t bad, of course, but perhaps it was simply “kosher.” We were fine, we were yotzei – but did we hum along with the Levites’ hymns?
The Hebrew word korbanot – sacrifices – has the root karov – closeness. As we journey through life, desperately trying to come closer to each other, to Hashem, to our true selves, are we moving to the beat of holy music? As we get ready to return to normal in this powerful month of renewal, we have the opportunity to bring an extra level of intention into every aspect of our lives.
Among the more than 2.5 million precious souls claimed by the pandemic over the past year was Rabbi Morechai Leifer, the Pittsburgher Rebbe. A spiritual leader, Torah scholar, and musical composer, he asked a simple question about the Pesach seder: Why do we break the middle matzah? The middle matzah represents the Levites, he explained, and when one heard the sweet songs of these sacred servants in Temple times, it simply broke their hearts open.
Last year, each of us sat alone or with immediate family only on Leil Haseder, perhaps one of the most powerful nights on the Hebrew calendar. For some, it was transformative, higher than we could have ever imagined, and for others, it was lonely and depressing. As we approach the Pesach Seder this year, many of us in Israel are hoping to safely celebrate again with family and friends. When we break the middle matzah together this year, how can we crack our hearts open to truly let God in?
“וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו”
“And the LORD called unto Moses, and spoke unto him” (Leviticus 1:1)
As we begin Sefer Vayikra, a book about understanding avodah, we must finetune our ears to hear the song of the Levites escorting us in our divine service. Just as Hashem called out to Moshe, He is constantly calling out to us, in every moment of every day. The world vayikra ends with an aleph zeira – a tiny aleph, hinting to each and every one of us that somewhere deep inside, we all have a humble, holy spark, yearning for a world bursting with soulful song. As we return to life and encounter endless opportunities for closeness, for true korbanot, I bless each of us to listen closely to the unique song deep within that can elevate our lives from yotzei to so much more, to a divinely inspired dance. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, to the world.