Thursday, April 12, 2007

Table Talk for Shemini 5767

We all look for signs: signs that we’re doing the right thing, signs of God’s hand in the world. But, while we wait for God, the Torah actually tells us in this parshah how to get God to appear before us.
After giving Aharon complete instructions for the sacrifices that would offer atonement for the Jewish people, the Torah tells us that they took all the necessary ingredients for the sacrifice, “and gathered the entire community, and they stood before God.” (Vayikra 9:5) The Moshe said, זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה ה' תַּעֲשׂוּ--וְיֵרָא אֲלֵיכֶם, כְּבוֹד ה' – “this is the thing that God commanded you to do, that the glory of God may appear to you.” (9:6) Simply put: do this, and God will appear. The only question is: do what?
First and foremost Moshe is speaking about the sacrifices. If Aharon properly performs the sacrificial rituals, God promises to appear. But we cannot offer sacrifices today. Can something else bring God’s presence? Fortunately, different commentators understand “this thing” in new ways. The Midrash teaches that it refers to circumcision. Ohr Hachayim, in a beautiful piece, suggests that God wants the people to mentally and spiritually prepare themselves to stand “before God” (see verse 5 above). Yet, perhaps we can offer an even simpler solution.
Immediately preceding the promise of Providential appearance, God tells Moshe to gather the people. Maybe that’s “the thing.” The more the people – the Jewish people – gather together as one unit, the greater our ability to bring God’s Providence into the world.