At the beginning of the book of Leviticus, called Vayikra in Hebrew, God calls out (“vayikra”) for us to recognize the power of ritual to actually affect God’s very presence among us. God imparts the seriousness of the ritual in the detailed instructions and specific roles assigned to every member of the fledgling Hebrew society.
This year, 2019 , Hebrew calendar 5779, we turn to this call from God at the beginning of the book of Leviticus just days after the massacre of Muslims in New Zealand. Almost 3 years after the massacre of African-American Christians praying in their church in Charleston North Carolina. Just months after the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh. close to the Jewish holiday of Purim, the actual anniversary of Rabbi Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Palestinian Muslims in their mosque.
We know that some of the people who committed these killings believed they were doing these acts of violence in the name of their religion. And it won’t be surprising to learn that all of them are believers in one of these three religions. Because as we see in the world today and throughout the history of humankind, religion can take us either way. Toward compassion or violence.
How do we choose a way of practicing a religion that moves us toward compassion and away from violence? Vayikra suggests its by looking to religious leaders-in the time of Torah, the priests– who understand how important and powerful and impactful the ritual is.
And what is our place, the people, the ones to bring the items to be sacrificed to the priests, what do we ask from them? Do we ask them to lead us in ritual that brings us closer to compassion and nonviolence or ritual that brings us closer to hatred and violence?
Which is the godding force that we want our religious practices to bring to dwell among us?
This morning, on the Shabbat of Remembrance , the Shabbat before Purim, Rabbi David Ingber modeled how we can choose the godding force that brings nonviolence and compassion.
At the Jewish Renewal congregation Romemu in New York City this morning, he said, given what happened in the world this week, given his experience praying with the Muslim Imam yesterday in the aftermath of bloody violence in New Zealand, he will not lead the congregation in the customary observation of “blotting out Amalech” on this shabbat of remembering. The custom, or practice, handed down by the sages, is that, on the shabbat before Purim, we cry out for the ”blotting out of” enemies who attack us in our weaknesses, enemies known as Amelech.
Rabbi Ingber called us to replace closed and even hate-filled hearts that operate by ” blotting out” with hearts of generosity and inclusion. He takes the ritual seriously, not just as fancy stories or children’s myths. Let us look at our ritual and dare to add on and replace as needed to empower religious practices to become relevant and effective allies in moving us to a world without violence.