I did not realize until Monday morning of this week – my first in the office as I transition back from maternity leave – that the Torah portion was Vayikra, the opener to the book of Leviticus. These mostly unstructured twelve weeks since our son Avi was born have simultaneously passed in freaky-rapid and molasses-slow succession. Josh and I recently discussed how the period of time after the birth of a child is a little bit like the 1993 Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day;” every morning a repeat of the one before. And yet, those milestones of babydom are some of the most profound, moving moments of your life; for example, a smile has never meant as much as it does when it comes from Avi.
How fitting to begin a new book of Torah this week, one that focuses on the seemingly mundane details of sacrifice – a precursor to our modern Jewish modes of prayer – and the challenges of forming a God-focused society. How poignant that we begin to study this third book of Torah just when we change our clocks to reflect a shift in that much-needed sunlight. How timely to begin this new book of Torah with Purim, Pesach and Spring Break just around the corner and summer vacation looming not-too-far on the horizon. Change is upon us and, to echo the intention of Vayikra, we need order and structure to process what those changes will mean.
Leviticus attempts to give the Jewish people a structure to understand that which they cannot; from the holiness of God’s presence to the complicated inner workings of the human body. On a surface level Leviticus might seem dull or repetitive, but scratch beneath and one finds a treasure trove of details on how to live life as a Jew. While some of that information might feel antiquated or tough to relate to – and indeed, much of it is – at its most basic level, Vayikra is about drawing closer to God, to community, and to the self. Each of us has the ability to take Vayikra’s teachings to heart and absorb what they attempt to teach us about life. As life presents us with its vast array of joys and challenges, it is the structure found in Leviticus that intends to give direction and purpose to our growing Jewish communities. And, hopefully, to a new mother forging a path toward professional parenthood in the years ahead.
Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen