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Two Minutes of Torah

Two Minutes of Torah: Vayikra – The Cost of being Jewish

Being Jewish can sometimes feel expensive. There are a whole array of costs which come with being an active member of the Jewish community. People pay to be members of synagogues, people pay for their children to go to Jewish camps, and people pay a whole variety of other costs connected to being an active and engaged Jew. It is hardly surprising that as people continue to struggle in the difficult economic climate that their ‘Jewish outgoings’ are sometimes the place where cuts are made.

I know that my parents made sacrifices for my Jewish identity. As a child they paid for me to attend Shemesh, the summer camp of RSY-Netzer, and as I got older they then helped subsidize me more generally so that I could volunteer as a staff member there during the summer. Most importantly for me, when I finished my schooling, they paid a significant amount of money for me to spend a year in Israel with my youth movement before going to College. Today as costs for these programs have risen way above the rate of inflation, I am not sure that we could have afforded the Jewish experiences I was so lucky to have.

As we begin to read about the sacrificial system in this week’s Torah portion, at first glance it appears that there has always been a cost to being Jewish. When the first burnt offering is described, it cannot be just any animal from the flock or herd, it has to be ‘an unblemished male’ (Leviticus 1:3). You couldn’t get away with bringing the runt of the litter, you had to bring an animal of value.

However, the sin offering, which is required for transgressions, including when a person becomes unclean, is structured differently. It first states: ‘he must bring his penalty for guilt to Adonai for his sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, whether a female sheep or a female goat, for a sin offering’ (Leviticus 5:6). Once again it appears that there is a high price to be a part of the Jewish system.

But it then continues: ‘If he cannot afford an animal from the flock, he must bring his penalty for guilt for his sin that he has committed, two turtledoves or two young pigeons’ (Leviticus 5:7). Before finally adding: ‘If he cannot afford two turtledoves or two young pigeons, he must bring as his offering for his sin which he has committed a tenth of an ephah of choice wheat flour for a sin offering’ (Leviticus 5:11).

All those years ago, when Judaism revolved around a sacrificial system, it found a way to ensure that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, could be a part of the community. Today, when we no longer offer sacrifices, we can learn from that system about how to make sure everyone, at all financial levels, can be included in the community.

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