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Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47


The ceremony to dedicate the Tabernacle and to ordain Aaron and his sons, which began in last week’s Torah portion (Tsav), was a protracted affair that lasted more than a week. Finally, on the eighth day (“BaYom HaSh’mini”), Moses ordered several more offerings to be made for atonement and well-being, for God was about to appear before the people.  All was done as Moses commanded, and in the culminating moments we read:

               Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he descended from having performed the sin-offering, the offering-up, and the wholeness-offering. Moses and Aaron then went inside the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Presence of the Eternal appeared to all the people. Fire came forth from the Presence of the Eternal and consumed the offering-up and the fat-parts on the altar. And all the people saw, sang joyful songs, and fell upon their faces. (Lev. 9:22-24)

On this day, according to a story in Midrash, the joy in the heavenly realms was as great as it was on the day when heaven and earth were created. Why? Because, our sages taught, this eighth day was the completion of Creation. By building the Tabernacle and ordaining priests who could perform sacrificial offerings, the Israelites created what the Universe still awaited from its Genesis: the possibility of teshuvah—repentance, return to Source and, ultimately, forgiveness. Teshuvah required human partnership with the Divine.

Thus, we read in Midrash, joy overwhelmed those who witnessed the final moments of the dedication ceremony. God appeared and, in a display of fire, accepted the sacrifices that Aaron had made on their behalf. The people knew then that they had been forgiven, and that no matter how far from God they may stray, no matter how apparently lost from Source (remember the Golden Calf?), there would always remain the promise of return, the potential for atonement, for mending and healing. Moreover, they also knew that they had created the possibility of forgiveness not only for themselves, but for all future generations.

This possibility of teshuvah is part of our inheritance. Now we, like our ancestors, are the ones called upon to create the container in our lives in which teshuvah can take place. And since we no longer sacrifice animals or ordain priests to perform the offering, it is up to us to perform the necessary personal “sacrifices” toward forgiveness, and atonement. This is a liberating practice. As we learn to forgive, heal and mend, as we perform acts of charity and lovingkindness as part of this process of teshuvah, we free ourselves from the layers of anger, resentment, guilt and fear that have walled-off our hearts and weighed us down. We draw nearer to the Source within, closer to the Divine. Teshuvah becomes a pathway to experiencing joy, a practice toward living a joyful life.

Like our ancestors before us, we may even find ourselves singing joyfully in the experience of the Divine Presence burning up—in Its all-consuming fire—those hardened shells around our hearts. In those moments—it seldom happens in one Grand Moment—we remember the One we share, the One we are, the One we have always been.