Ethics News Reform Judaism Torah

Belgium Raises It All… Over Again

Belgium raises it all… over again.

This week we read in the Torah (Parashat Tzav, Leviticus 6:1-8:36), once again, of laws pertaining to sacrifice and the ancient priestly responsibilities.   Now, we know that the word in Hebrew commonly used to connote “sacrifice” is korban – which better translates as a means of “drawing near.” The idea in Hebrew was that a korban would draw the Israelite people and God nearer one another, through the act of animal sacrifice.

Clearly, such an experience is foreign to our present-day sensibilities, yet today, the term bears heightened possibility… Brussels.

The scenes of the carnage at the airport and the train station – the human sacrifice on the altar of violence in the name of drawing God nearer – must demand our deepest moral attention. To some – the perpetrators and their sympathizers – the images of innocent blood shed in the name of their God relationship – must evoke the very sacrificial experience which Leviticus once commanded.

And, to others – we of the Tradition which has superseded and transcended animal sacrifice in our march towards religious ethics, and drawing near to God through prayer, repentance and acts of justice and kindness – the images remind us that the priestly instructions of Leviticus belong to a bygone age. And our age, instead, has elevated the ethical teachings of that same biblical book, namely, “V’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha – Love your neighbor as yourself,” and to me, even more powerfully, “Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa – Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” to be the paramount, enduring messages of Leviticus.

Essentially, Belgium raises it all… over again. We can best understand where we stand in the advances of religious civilization by how we stand vis-à-vis the commandments of this sacred biblical book. Do we aspire to see the blood of innocents shed that God might draw near, or do we aspire to bring neighbors together in love and purpose, caring for each others’ blood, that we might draw near, and make ourselves more Godly.

I know where we stand.

Rabbi Doug Kohn serves The Reform Temple of Rockland