Ariel Ben Avraham

Parshat Vayikra: Doing the sacred

We started the month of Nissan with the reading of the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, also known as Leviticus. Although the last portion of the book of Exodus, Pekudei, refers to the completion of the construction of the mishkan [tabernacle], Vayikra continues with the sacrifices to be offered to God in the holy place where His Presence rests. The Latin term for “sacrifice” is made out of two words that mean “doing the sacred”.

In Hebrew the word used in the Torah is korban, usually translated as offering, and in a deeper meaning denotes what has to be returned to its Creator. Other sages say that it derives from the semantic root karov which means being near. They suggest that it means to be close to the Creator.

This offering, understood as a return to be close to Him, occurs in a way of elevation because the Creator belongs to a higher place. This elevation takes place when the offering is burnt and transformed into smoke that reaches up to heaven.

The first portion of Leviticus is also called vayikra, which according to Rashi is an affectionate way in which God calls on to Moses to give instructions to the people of Israel in their tent of meeting about how they will bring their offerings to Him. As we said, these offerings are the sacred things to do in order to maintain the closest connection between ourselves and the Creator.

Mystic and Chassidic sages explain that the animals that God indicates, including their blood and fat, refer to human traits such as passion (blood), pleasure (fat), emotional excitement (sheep and goats); taking what is not given to us, eating or consuming without discernment, and dumping everywhere without caring for others (pigeons) and egotistic, controlling and oppressive behavior (ox, bulls and bullocks).

The act of sacrificing these animals by burning them in the altar of the tabernacle does not mean the actual elimination or destruction of the human traits they represent. Let’s reexamine the message of this Torah portion, and take a closer look to the essential elements involved in the sacrifices requested from Israel by God.

First of all, the place where those offerings take place, the mishkan. It represents the highest level of our consciousness where our soul actually dwells permanently. It is the place where we are eternally connected with our Creator, and from where we communicate and relate to Him.

It is there where the Creator dwells among us, therefore the most sacred dimension of our material consciousness.

“And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and [the tent of meeting] shall be sanctified by My glory. And I will dwell among [in] the children of Israel, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among [in] them. I am the Lord their God.” (Exodus 29:43, 45-46)

Second of all, the burning fire that according to our sages came from heaven. This holy fire was always burning in the mishkan, and God also requested a material fire that blended with His. In this sense, divine fire is the essential catalyst with which our human thoughts, emotions, feelings and passions are elevated (refined) and “returned” to God.

We refine them in order to redirect them according to His will, and what He wants us to be and do. This heavenly fire is nothing more and nothing less than God’s love, from which everything is created, nurtured and sustained. This is the same fire that welcomes us when we are humbled after taking off our shoes to step in His holy ground.

This is the fire that purifies and leads in the right direction our basic nature, our basic needs and instincts, according to God’s will.

The different kind of offerings have the goal to bring us back to God, after we lost our true purpose in this world and fell into the illusions that our basic nature take us to. The high priest is the one who guides us all the time in this tabernacle. He is the higher consciousness always present when we are attuned to God’s will. He is the one who elevates our basic traits in order to put the yoke of heaven on our ego: the yoke of real peace and pure joy that balance our emotions.

We refer to the yoke of true care and respect for our fellow man in all of our actions. By doing so we are truly fulfilling God’s will, and also His promise to dwell among (in) us.

Let’s rededicate our lives to the love of God by dwelling with Him in the tabernacle that is the highest and purest level of our awareness. From there, His love harmonically guides all aspects of our consciousness in our thoughts, emotions, feelings, passions and instincts.

Also let’s remind ourselves that, in order to rebuild that sacred place where God promised to dwell with us, first we have to rebuild Jerusalem, our consciousness His love. We pray for this three times every day, and let’s not forget that we have to start this reconstruction now.

The Chassidic tradition teaches us that in Sinai the divine redemption came from Above to below; and the final redemption in our current times will come from below to Above. This means that with our basic, lower nature we have to reach up to heaven, and be guided by God’s love to redeem ourselves from ego’s fantasies and illusions, and be one again with God.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.