Get ready: On Sunday, April 22, the Asiyah community will come together for our first Village Gathering.
As we turn this week from the book of Exodus to Leviticus, we go from externality to internality, from the exhiliration of freedom and revelation to the humdrum of daily practice. Leviticus also shifts our attention to the parts of ancient religion that most trouble our postmodern sensibilities: ritual animal slaughter; priestly "purity;" and sacrifice, so much sacrifice. You could be forgiven for saying, "If this is what we have at the heart of Torah—literally in the middle—maybe this Torah isn't for me." But I want to hit pause on that impulse, as well as all the blood and gore of the first few chapters of Vayikra (as Leviticus is known in the vernacular), to consider the aleph.
Put your mind in the mind of a tadpole, your watery pond corner your whole world, where all the nutrients you need exist. You hatched out of your little jelly egg into a whole different reality—a little scarier and waterier than you were used to, and swimming is now a thing! And eating! The world has turned on its head! V'nafoch hu.
This week, in Parshat Terumah (Ex. 25:1-27:19), we hear of G-d’s plans to build the Mishkan, a portable holy space which the Levites would end up shlepping through the desert for forty years. One word that caught my attention this time around was what the Mishkan was to be built to house. It doesn’t say “Torah” or “the tablets,” but rather הָעֵדֻת/haEdut, literally “the Witnessing.”
"Leave the chains behind. You were slaves, now you're free; break the cycle for the other."
Parshat Mishpatim could be subtitled, "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry-list." It includes prescriptions for what to do with an indentured servant, a goring ox, a witch and a kidnapper. (Spoiler alert: the last two don't figure so favorably.) On the sublime end, it also introduces the concept of sh'mitah, a Sabbath for the land. Many sugiyot, Talmudic discussions, have sprung from these pages. But the one that sticks with me I've paraphrased above.