Torah Reflections: March 11 – 17, 2018

VaYikra

Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

A Major Step in Evolving World Consciousness

The opening of the Book of Leviticus showcases a momentous event in Western history, yet it goes mostly unnoticed. In it, we witness a major step forward in the evolution of Western consciousness that the Hebrews’ still nascent religion brings about, as it emerges sometime between the 7th and the 5th century BCE. The particular modality of worship and relation to God that Leviticus displays in its pages is one of the clues that allows us to perceive this critical shift in consciousness.

To place it in historical context, most pagan nations in the land of Canaan and in greater Mesopotamia believed that the idols they worshipped required gifts of food to be sustained. Their religious rituals included, therefore, bringing offerings and sacrifices—both human and animal—to the gods with the aim, on one hand, to appease their anger when needed, and, on the other hand, to bribe them so as to gain favor and continued protection.

Judaism’s newly awakened-to monotheistic views, as expressed in Leviticus, clashed with such concepts. Not only was there only one God to be worshipped, but the evolving understanding of the nature of what that God was, necessitated the creation of a radically different kind of relationship between this God and humanity. And though an elite few might have already lived from this newfound perspective, their task was to bring this understanding to the rest of the masses. The worship of the One God that forever remained unseen and could never be represented was so foreign to their contemporaries, that they had to find a middle-ground, a bridge to help bring about the shift in consciousness that was emerging without alienating their own people. Something needed to be put in place that would bring the Hebrews to break free from their long-held pagan-like beliefs, yet would still give them a sense of familiarity and continuity. In shaping the evolving form of Judaism, the priestly authors of Leviticus resorted to reframing what people had practiced for generations, yet transformed it into a new spiritual practice.

Though they would endeavor to end polytheistic idol worship—a struggle that will continue over several generations—they would keep the familiar rituals of food offerings and animal sacrifice. This time, however, the purpose of these rituals was specifically for personal and communal atonement and healing, as a means to removing obstacles in one’s relationship with the One God in order to draw nearer to Source again. Korban, the Hebrew word usually translated as “sacrifice,” means “to draw near,” and points to the intention behind the ritual act. Additionally, the ritual supported the reintegration of an individual or a group into the community. Spiritual and/or communal offenders would find healing and atonement through ritual offerings and sacrifices for offenses committed unwittingly. Yet, with that, they were still required to make amends and offer restitution to the injured parties. Premeditated and intentional offenses fell under different categories of punishment and compensation outside of sacrificial rites. This process transformed a ritual originally meant to “feed” the gods, to one where human beings could “feed” their longing for a spiritual relationship with God.

This was not the last time Judaism’s modality of worship evolved. Post-Temple Talmudic Judaism kept the purpose underlining the now-defunct sacrificial cult, and transformed its physical expression into a schedule of ordered prayer services. In parallel, and over the last two thousand years, our mystics created their own practices meant to also induce “drawing near” to God. Kabbalah practices such as ecstatic devotion, and many different types of meditation sought to provoke a direct awakening of the practitioner as to the True Nature of Reality and Self. These practices continue to this day to push consciousness to evolve once again, this time beyond the monotheistic dualistic understanding Leviticus brought to the Western world, and into non-dual awareness and its correlate worldview. Jewish spiritual communities such as Bet Alef are directly working toward ushering-in this next level of consciousness and non-dual understanding of the Divine. May we all be blessed to see the dawning of such consciousness in our lifetime.

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