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Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

In the last few portions of the Book of Exodus, we left the Israelites busily building a Tabernacle in the desert wilderness so that God could dwell among them in this Sacred Space. For us, the mythical outward Tabernacle of our forebears, is but a mirror to the Sacred Space we are where the Divine Presence dwells and expresses itself through our daily lives. Yet caught in the delusion of a separate sense of self and its entrancing drama, we grow oblivious of our true Divine identity.

This week’s Torah portion teaches us how to awaken to God’s Indwelling Presence and fully inhabit our own physical Temple. Put simply, we are to follow practices that help us, time and time again, open anew to the One we are, reconnect to Source and ground ourselves in Truth. In the consciousness of biblical times, this path of communion with God involved offering animals and other precious gifts at the Jerusalem Temple. The Hebrew word for this practice, korban, is often translated as offering “sacrifices,” which we English speakers usually equate with victimhood, self-abnegation, destruction, loss, and suffering. But that is not what the Hebrew word evokes. Korban means “to draw near,” and this drawing near to God was the essential purpose for the rituals of sacrifice. Offering one’s animal was a true personal sacrifice in biblical times, for livestock was a precious commodity that represented the very means of sustaining life for oneself and family. We moderns may dismiss these rituals as barbaric, but we could well ask what is so superior about our own culture of inhumane caging and slaughtering of animals not for spiritual purposes but for our own ravenous consumption. And what have we substituted for korban, for the means of healing the brokenness in our world, forgiving and atoning, or for restoring balance in our lives and peace in our communities?

Any ritual of surrendering what we are most attached to is a profoundly humbling spiritual practice that helps us break free from the bondage of ego. Take, for example, the verse that introduces a whole litany of possible korbanot (Lev. 1:12). It begins with, “Adam ki yakriv mikem korban l’Adonai” and is usually translated, “When any of you presents a korban to the Eternal,” referring mostly to the physical offering of animals. A more accurate translation suggests a deeper spiritual meaning: “If anyone presents a korban from within to the Eternal….” Here we begin to grasp the inner dimension of the practice. Something from within needs to be “released” as we aim to draw nearer to Source. What is being called to be surrendered, offered as a burnt offering? Not a literal animal, but what our teachers call our own “animal nature:” that bundle of thoughts, desires, emotional and physical attachments, pathological need for control, and paralyzing fears—everything, in short, that constitutes the false self. This drawing near is about stepping into the transformative fire of Divine Love so that our conditioned separate sense of self can be completely consumed. In the words of one of my favorite teachers, Ken Wilber; in this process of authentic transformation “the self is not made content; the self is made toast.”

This Divine Love our rabbis call “the fire of heaven.” It reduces our “animal nature,” our false self, to dust and ashes. It is the fire within the Cloud of Glory that fills our inner Tabernacle, now empty of self, where that which imagined it was separate and alone realizes in the blaze of a moment that it had always been One and Eternal.