By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

Closeness to the Divine

By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

Saturday, March 12, 2013

24th Torah portion, 1st in Leviticus – Vayikra

1:1-5:26 (111 verses)


                God instructs Moses on the five different kinds of sacrifices that are to be offered in the sanctuary:

  1. 1.Olah, “burnt offering” is the voluntary sacrifice. The entire animal, except for the hide, is burned on the altar.
  2. 2.Minchah, “meal offering” is made of flour, oil, salt and frankincense that is partly burned on the altar and partly given to the priests to eat.
  3. 3.Zevach sh’lamim, “well-being offering” is voluntary from one’s herd, often to fulfill a vow.
  4. 4.Chatat, “sin offering” is obligatory in order to expiate unintentional sins. The blood of the animal is treated differently than other offerings.
  5. 5.Asham, “penalty offering” is another obligatory sacrifice of a ram required of one who has misappropriated property.


                Sacrifice is derived from the Latin sacer, meaning “holy.” The Hebrew is korban, which means, “that which is brought near.” One is literally bringing an offering nearer to God. Isaac Abravanel (one of the great Sephardic exegetes, 1437-1508) says, “It likewise implies that the offering, when brought in the right spirit, is the medium whereby a person attains nearness to the Divine.”

                As a rabbi I am often asked about God’s location –mostly why God is so distant. “What have I done to deserve this from God?” is a frequently asked question. Abravanel’s response of the “right spirit” allowing nearness to the Divine may offer us some comfort. What constitutes the “right spirit”? The answer is found in the first chapters of Vayikra.

                Animals brought for the offering shall be “of the herd or flock” and “it shall be a male without blemish” (1:3). It cannot be a wild animal having some flaw. It cannot be an animal from the wild. It has to be the best of the ones in your flock and without blemish. The male is not an indication of a patriarchal system. Females may be in heat only once or twice a year, while males are available to multiply the herd at any time. The meal offering is from the finest oil and finest flour.

                What does Vayikra have to say to us in the 21st century? First, one must ask, what relationship with God am I attempting to achieve?  Am I thanking God for finishing a project? Have I sinned? Am I seeking to atone? Am I trying to understand my divine purpose? The greater the complexity of the question, the greater effort is necessary for korban, “nearness”, for raising our consciousness to a divine consciousness.

In the ancient world, our ancestors had to bring their choicest, their best, the finest that they had – animals and produce they worked hard to grow and to refine. Coming close to God’s mind requires the best we have to offer.  That means a conscious routine of prayer, meditation, and holy efforts on a daily or–at the least–on a weekly basis (Shabbat observance, for example). On the High Holy Days we call the “right spirit” Tefillah, “prayer”, Teshuvah, “repentence”, and Tzedakah, “righteous behavior” and “charity.”


  1. 1.What has happened to you that keep you distant from God? (You will notice I did not ask, “Why is God distant from you?” – Is there a difference?)
  2. 2.What are the “blemishes” which prevent a person from being close to God? What would happen if a person temporarily removes them before entering prayer or meditation?
  3. 3.Does prayer bring you closer to God?
  4. 4.Does meditation bring you closer to God?
  5. 5.Do acts of kindness and mitzvoth bring you closer to God?
  6. 6.Is being close to God important?
  7. 7.If you were closer to God what would you be experiencing?


Imagine God surrounding you, filling you, every imaginable space is filled with divine energy. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and believe this is true. Sit quietly and meditate on this for five minutes. Open your eyes. What are you thinking right now?

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