Drawing Closer to God and to our People: The Advantages we have in our Time compared with those of our Ancestors
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
This week, we are starting to read the third book of the Torah, the book of Vayikra, Leviticus. In this week’s parashah, you can find the rules and procedures for the different types of korbanot, offerings or sacrifices, that were brought to the Mishkan (tabernacle).
The word Korbanot comes from the root Qof-Resh-Bet, which means “to draw close,” and indicates the principal purpose of the offerings, which is to draw us closer to God.
For many decades, the sacrificial system served as the principal means for communication between the people of Israel and God. Since the destruction of the second Temple of Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago, Jews needed to find other ways to communicate with God.
The Korbanot were replaced by prayers, known in the Talmud as “the worship of the heart”. Reading this week’s parashah, I was thinking that, we, in our time, have at least two advantages overour ancestors:
1) Our ancestors, in order to draw close to God, needed to go to a designated place, the Tabernacle or the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem. They alsoneeded thepresence of a Cohen, a priest, who would be in charge of the performing of the korbanot, sacrifices.
In contrast, in our time, the prayers can be done by anyone at any time in any place. There is no need to go to a specific place or have a particular person to do it on our behalf.
Comparing the prayers to the korbanot, Rambam says: “Prayer and supplication can be offered everywhere and by every person” (Guide for the Perplexed, Part 3, 32).
During the current time of isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we don’t have our normal in-person communities but we still have the opportunity to lekarev, to draw closer to God through prayers. Wherever we are and whoever we are, prayers and supplications can be offered.
Now, when we are confronting a deathly serious pandemic impacting our country and the entire world, we feel the need to pray and be closer to God. Fortunately, we can do it wherever we are.
2) The second advantage we have, compared to our ancestors, is the technology we can use now, which enables us to be connected in a time of isolation. Our ancestors never could have imagined this possibility.
Today we are able to gather together in virtual meetings. We can pray together, see each other and share thoughts and feelings despite being separated one another. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to be closer in a time we need to be separated.
In summary, Parashat Vayikra, the parashah which encourages us to draw closer to God and to our people, helps us to reflect on the advantages we have in our time compared with that of our ancestors.
Wenow can pray wherever we are and at any time. Also, despite the need to remain isolated we still can be together, sharing our fears, uncertainties and hopes.
May the virtual meetings we have, give us strength, support, and hope in these difficult times we are living.
May God hear our prayers in this time of crises, death, desolation and uncertainty.
May we be able to gather in person very soon.