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Torah Commentary
Vayikra (March 16, 2013)

Rachel Brumberg, Associate Director of Lifelong Learning

THE HOLIDAY OF Purim falls exactly one month prior to Pesach, so as soon as the hamantaschen are done and Purim Carnival cleaned up, I get fixated on preparing for Passover. With that in mind, it is no surprise that as I sat down to read this week’s parashah, the thing that jumped out at me was the mentioning of leavened products.

To back up for a moment, this week, we begin the book of Leviticus, in Hebrew Vayikra, the third book of the five books of Moses. This book contains the priestly laws including laws of sacrifice, purification, dedication of the Temple, kashrut, holiness and other legal matters.

Our portion opens with details about the different types of sacrifices. In specific, I was intrigued to find out that “meal offerings” cannot be made with leaven. A meal offering, or mincha, was a voluntary offering as a gift to God. It may be raw or cooked in an oven, griddle or pan. The main ingredients are flour and oil, and frankincense should be put on top of it. When it is brought to the Temple, the priest takes out a portion to burn on the altar so that the smoke goes up to God; the remainder is given to Aaron and his sons.

Now, if you were to put together a beautiful gift, would you chose a generous loaf of bread from Eli’s Bread, or would you just throw together some flour and oil? That’s essentially what’s happening here: We are being told that a meal offering should not be made of superfluous ingredients but rather should be made only of the purest of elements. What is it about the leavening, the agent that makes bread rise, which rendered an item unfit for this sacrifice?

Perhaps this is simply a good example of “less is more.” When presenting a gift, we are being told that it is not a competition to see who can put together the most ingredients to be best. Instead it is a challenge to strip down to the barest of elements to be true and pure. When you add extras, or leaven, things change and rise and quite literally become blown out of proportion. Maybe we are being taught that when one is offering a gift, one should be humble and not boastful. A gift should be honest, with nothing to hide.

Or perhaps that which is leaven or chameitz can be likened to an evil or impurity. As we approach Passover, we rid these elements from ourselves and our homes as part of our journey from slavery to freedom. The chameitz may not be hiding any impurities, but rather it is exactly that which causes the corruption within us. If we are able to break away from chameitz, then we will be free.

Either way, when we see that there are elements which stand in the way of truly pleasing ourselves and those around us, we are reminded to concentrate on the key elements in our lives and rid ourselves of that which hides or corrupts our gifts. Only once we are able to get back to that which is essential and pure — the flour and oil — may we be rewarded.

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