Torah Lights - A Biblical Commentary
Vayikra: Sacrifice, Sanctity, and Silence
By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Maggid Books, 2009, 278 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - February 24, 2011
This is the third of so-far published three volumes in which Rabbi Shlomo Riskin offers his views on the Torah. Readers may want to look at my reviews of his first two volumes, on Bereshit and Shemot, to find out about Rabbi Riskin, his accomplishments, and the type of issues that he discusses. In this third volume, he offers from four to ten short incisive thought-provoking commentaries on each of the ten biblical portions that are read in synagogues from the book of Leviticus, called Vayikra in Hebrew. The essays generally combine a relevant and traditional approach to the Bible with many references to current events and time-honored and long-established Bible commentaries. He offers thought-provoking answers to many interesting questions.
He points out in his introduction that the expression of holiness in Leviticus is far different than the classical notion offered by Rudolf Otto that the sacred is mystical and other-worldly. The biblical idea of holiness is down-to-earth. It includes the Sabbath and festivals and our daily encounters with fellow humans. It includes as well many ways in which people can ennoble themselves. It is the challenge that aids people in bringing God into daily life.
Leviticus, he writes, speaks about sacrifices, a very difficult subject. He tells how hard it is for him as a rabbi to console parents in Israel for the sacrifices/death of their children in defense of the Jewish homeland and from terrorist attacks.
He addresses many subjects such as why the Bible has a small letter aleph in the book's first word? What is sin? What is guilt? What is responsibility? What is holiness? What is martyrdom and when should people do it? How should modern people look at the significance of animal sacrifices? What is Maimonides' view on sacrifices? What does God really want from people? When does wine, an intoxicating beverage, bring sanctity? How do holidays such as Yom Kippur work? Should we focus our attention on the world-to-come or this world? Isn't a non-Jew included in the law "Love your neighbor as yourself?" Is Israel the land of God? Does the Torah condone slavery?