Our Torah portion for this week Parashat Vayikra from the book of Leviticus, focuses on the temple cult and animal sacrifice. Although inspirational liturgy and music form the core of our worship today, our ancestors believed that by offering their finest animals and produce, they were communing with God in the highest form possible. As a result, the Torah is filled with commandments on how to properly sacrifice and present offerings.
Nearly 2,000 years ago when the great temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the long held institution of animal sacrifice was brought to a close, it was feared that Judaism would come to an end. However, the great sage, Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai, called for a revolutionary new approach to Judaism. Within the religious center he created, Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai proclaimed that study of Torah, heartfelt prayer for the good of others as well as self, and most of all, deeds of loving kindness would replace sacrifice. From that moment, Jews developed an entirely new way of life. These powerful expressions set the stage for Jewish life in every community, with outreach to others as the heartbeat.
In a few short months, we will move into our beautiful new building, and through our collective efforts, revolutionize Judaism within the town of Greenwich. While prayer and study will be an essential part of what will take place in our home, g’milut chasadim, deeds of loving must be at the very center. So much service to the community has flourished during our days without walls, so we can only begin to consider how much more we will be able to offer others as our membership grows in our new home.
Indeed the concept of what a temple, a House of God, should be within the contemporary world is a far cry from the times when our ancestors brought forth sacrifices and the priests sent them up as burnt offerings. May Greenwich Reform Synagogue be a beacon to our greater community, as we further our resolve for social action. Let us hold fast to the highest teachings of Judaism, namely, that service to others, gifts of the heart, are what connect us to God.
Rabbi Andrew R. Sklarz, DD, MSW, MA