Friday, March 31, 2017

Vayikra: Why God Needs a Perfect Seder

Every so often, I get questions from congregants (and others) that basically amount to, "Why does God need x?" The context of each is unique, the holiday/
commandment/ritual/ethic affected is different, but the underlying curiosity is the same. I would rephrase what they're all asking me as, "If God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and good... why does God need something from us??" Just last week, an Ohev member asked why God needed the Israelites to paint their doorposts with blood, just before the firstborn Egyptians were killed in the tenth plague; doesn't God know who lives where?? A fair question indeed.

A similar query could be asked regarding this week's Torah portion. Vayikra (the Torah portion AND the third Book of the Torah) begins with a description of 
various sacrificial rituals. With every type of offering, an emphasis is placed on perfection. Animals must be "without blemish" (Lev. 1:3, 1:10, 3:1, 3:6) and grain/produce must be "the finest" available (2:1, 4, 5, 7, 12). I mean, everyone knows that God loves fancy things, right?!? What kind of an offering would it be, if your banana had a brown spot on it?? Is this a hobo-god we're dealing with?!?!? I don't think so!! God requires "the good stuff." God needs stuff to be pretty and perfect. OBVIOUSLY! (I hope my excessive use of exclamation points and question marks has made it clear that I'm being sarcastic. God doesn't want any of that silliness.)

But if God DOESN'T need perfection, and if God doesn't need our doorpost markers, then why are they listed as such in the Torah? Why do we regularly see God asking for things, gifts, gestures, and responses that an 
omnipotent Deity couldn't possibly NEED? So here's my answer to all these questions: It isn't about God. It's about us. No, I don't think God needs this "stuff." But WE need it. We need to be active partners in this covenant, this Jewish enterprise, for it to really mean something. If God does everything for us - if God just folded some arms and blinked some eyes and all the slaves magically found themselves settled in the Promised Land, with no plagues, no Exodus, no struggle - would we even really care? This is kind of a basic rule of human existence, right? If someone hands you a $100 bill, and you work your tail off to earn a different $100 bill; will they really be of equal value to you? We all know the answer.

This Sunday, April 2nd, Ohev is running a program called "How to Host a Seder." Hebrew School families are invited at 9:00 a.m. and the whole congregation at 10:40 a.m., to learn tips, suggestions, recipes, and (hopefully) interesting material about how to run a Seder. And I'm mentioning this here, because this too is about 
OWNING Jewish ritual. You can run a 5-minute Seder and call it a day, OR you could go a step or two further and make it a meaningful and spiritual experience. Not because God needs your super-Seder, but because you do. We get more out of experiences when we first put more INTO them. Offering a perfect specimen, rather than the shriveled one you were going to toss in the trash anyway, makes the sacrifice more special and precious. I promise that on Sunday we won't review animal sacrifice rules or smear blood on door posts; that might be taking it a smidge too far... But we WILL be talking about how to make the Seder more meaningful AND fun. Again, not for God's benefit. God's doing just fine. This is for our sake, because the Seder has much to teach us, IF we're willing to learn. As we say in the Haggadah, the Seder night IS different from all other nights; let's work together to figure out just how unique and special it can be.

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image of a (appropriately named) "Pink Perfection" flower, courtesy of Chamaeleon~commonswiki on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image from "I Dream of Jeannie," courtesy of SreeBot on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of Arthuc01 on Wikimedia Commons

No comments:

Post a Comment