Our Torah portion is Vayikrah, the first parasha in Leviticus. These chapters describe the details of animal and meal sacrifices that were performed at the mishkan. The sacrifices were performed for forgiveness, for festivals, and for a gift to God. Our haftarah was written by Deutro- Isaiah when the Jews were in Babylon. The last section talks about how idols were false and useless. He tells a story about a craftsman who selects a tree from the forest. With half the wood he makes a beautiful statue and prays to it. He burns the other half of the wood to cook his meat and to keep his house warm. The prophet complains that all this work is for no purpose.
I wondered why it was so useless and bad to pray to a wood statue and so good to sacrifice an animal. Both sounded pretty similar to me. The wood statute and the animal were the result of a person’s work. Also, both involved a physical god, either the statue or a god who likes the smell of meat. It even seems better to use wood, rather than killing an animal. However, they are different in an important way, the intention of the worshippers. I think the intention of the Israelites was to build a community.
We don’t know the intention of the idol worshipper, but in this haftarah the craftsman prays alone to his hand-made god. For the Israelites, the sacrifices were performed for forgiveness from the community and to feel closer to God. The Israelites had one God that was shared by everyone. The whole organization of the temple, priests, and shared rituals, built a community for the Israelites.
We don’t sacrifice animals any more, but we build community by praying and working together. Having a community means that we help each other. For my Bar Mitzvah project, I wanted to make buildings more energy efficient, but that is hard to do alone. Cantor Rachel suggested that I contact Yachad, an organization that improves housing for the poor. Friends from Adat Shalom, volunteers from Yachad, my family, and I repaired and painted a home for an elderly lady. Through Yachad and this community of volunteers, I was able to make her home more energy efficient and beautiful.
Becoming a Bar Mitzvah, means that I am a full member of the community. Before I didn’t have that many jobs because people took care of me. But now I have take on more responsibilities. Sometimes it’s hard to get things done with other people. In my family, I struggle to even get my brothers to listen to me.
We’ll never go back to animal sacrifice, but if we put as much care and energy into building community as the Israelites did for their animal sacrifices, we can have a community that will support each other as we go through good and bad times. So we can either carve pretty statues alone or we can do the messy, but rewarding work of making a community. Shabbat shalom