Offerings: TorahCycle Vayikra

VayikraThis week’s reading is all about offerings, which is Torah talk for what you bring to the sanctuary when you’ve broken laws. It’s somewhere between atonement for deep spiritual sins on the highest level to making up for what you might have accidentally done and should feel badly about in daily life. The categories range from offerings for actual transgressions to peace and guilt offerings.

At the risk of seeming to trivialize the holy, they seem similar to what I imagine is in a cat’s mind when she delivers a juicy mouse to the door: Love me. Forgive me. I’m sorry. I’m good. I’m trying. Give me another chance. Take my gift. Please remember how much you love me.

We’re at the beginning of Leviticus, the book of laws, rules, regulations, instructions, how to’s, and punishments for misdemeanors, felonies, and supreme transgressions in every part of our lives, from what, when, and how we eat, pray, wash, conduct business, or treat family, friends, and neighbors. It’s my least favorite book of the Torah, in part because I’m  often on the deficit side of some line, which to many are the essence of daily living and practice. But the concepts are important, despite the emphasis on so many pesky do’s and don’ts .

In ancient times offerings were everything from critters to grain. (Note: Judaism was an evolution away from child sacrifice, part of some neighboring religions.) These days we risk fines and jail time for legal misdeeds,  and offer up I’m sorry when we screw up in our interpersonal realities, or even monetary remediation for our mistakes.

But what goes on in our hearts when we break something, whether it’s the trust or goodwill in a relationship to someone’s prized possession?

In part it’s the kitty litany from above. Because most of us don’t want people angry at us, and don’t like how we feel when we’ve been mean, or unconscious, or screwed up our own lives or those of others. But we also often distance ourselves, and miss the chance to fully heal. “That” was done by our other me, our evil twin, our less honest or brave self, the one we keep wishing we’d outgrow, or who’d respond to our persistent dreams of spiritual evolution. This one, the repentant one, has learned her lesson. She’s wiser and if you trust her again she won’t disappoint you. Or so we swear, this time and the next and the next.

That’s in part the beauty of having an offering ritual. Whether it’s words or acts of contrition, there’s a way to acknowledge how we’ve been less than our best selves, so we can begin again the process of growth and change.

Exercise: Think and journal about what makes you feel or say you’re sorry. Is it violations of sacred or moral law, or acts of unkindness towards another. Do you think it’s worse to hurt someone intentionally or unintentionally? What’re the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your life? Are you still too embarrassed to talk about them? What would it take to cleanse your soul?