And [God] called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting. (Leviticus/Vayikra 1:1)
The opening of the book of Leviticus/Vayikra leads us to expect an important announcement. Instead, God explains how to make six kinds of offerings at the altar of the brand-new Tent of Meeting. The only technology on offer for pleasing or appeasing God involves slaughtering animals at the altar, splashing their blood around, butchering them, and burning them.
My 2014 posts on the first two Torah portions in the book, Vayikra and Tzav, reinterpret the six types of animal sacrifices from a vegetarian viewpoint. You can read a revised version of the first one here: Vayikra & Tzav: Fire-Offerings Without Slaughter, Part 1. (I will rewrite Part 2 for next week.)
This year I feel sadness and disgust once again at the gratuitous slaughter of innocent animals. I feel gratitude once again that Jews now serve God with prayer and good deeds instead. I stand by my earlier interpretations of fire-offerings as ways of dealing with anger, and of rising-offerings as ways of continuously directing our desires toward doing good.
But the let-down of learning that God’s first words from the new tent-sanctuary are instructions for animal offerings hit me harder this year. It reminds of the let-down I went through when I reached the climax of our journey, Jerusalem itself.
My first disappointment was that although I prayed at the Western Wall (Herod’s retaining wall for the Temple Mount) three times, and stuck my own heartfelt written prayer into a crevice, I was unable to feel holiness emanating from the stones. I was sad, but not surprised. I have always been a practical person, capable of flights of imagination but untouched by the world that mystics sense so vividly.
My second disappointment was the abrupt end of my time in Israel. I wanted to attend a third teaching by Avivah Zornberg, one of my favorite biblical commentators. I wanted to go to several more archaeological sites and museums. I wanted to see some places outside Jerusalem that I had read about in the Torah and in later Jewish writings—the Dead Sea, the Negev, the Galilee, the kabbalistic town of Sfaat, the northern cities on the Mediterranean.
But like the United States, Israel shut down all public places in order to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Museums closed, tours ceased. There was no point sitting in our apartment day after day, watching teachings online that we could watch from anywhere in the world. And what if we could not return to the U.S., where we have health insurance, when we need medical care for our pre-existing conditions?
We canceled our flight to Athens, the next stop on our itinterary, and booked an earlier flight to the United States. Now we are repatriated in our home state of Oregon, looking for a new place to live. I remind myself that while the whole world is shut down, I will have time to work on both of the books I was writing when we left last September: my book on the ethics of free will in Genesis, and my fantasy novel. Staying home to write will not be so bad.
But I was expecting something bigger when I reached Jerusalem. I suppose I wanted a divine voice to call to me from a holy place and tell me something important. All I got was instructions on making sacrifices.
Now I will have to make my own meaning out of life during the pandemic.