Vayikra: Remembering

From 30,000 feet up you can’t discern who is a democrat or republican, a conservative or progressive. Flying above the clouds you can’t see the right from the left, or for that matter anyone walking down on Earth. When you climb high enough the trivial matters of the world don’t seem to make that much difference, and no one seems to really care about the petty matters that divide us. Do the birds in the sky know or care about our comings and goings? The wise Solomon said it long ago: “A generation comes, a generation goes, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

But I’m told that there is a place a bit higher in heaven where it does make a difference, and someone does care. “Under the sun” nothing is new; but above the sun – ahh, there is much news.

These are some of the thoughts fleeting through my mind as I fly from New York to Israel and think about the earth below. Corruption, greed, self interest, self destruction – and the soap opera that it all turns into in our overdosed media age. We love the drama. It makes for great TV. Entertainment, rise and fall, politics, sexuality – all the components of a blockbuster, that has everybody buzzing and glued to the endless stream of experts being marched on our screens.

From time to time it’s good to get away from it all. But then just as you thought you were out, they pull you right back in…

You can’t remain in the skies forever. The plane, after all, does have to land. Even birds need to rest in their nests.

So, what do you do then; what happens when you come back to the ground?  – that is the big question. It’s easy, relatively at least, to escape to the heavens. Can we however maintain our integrity down on earth? The prospect can be quite daunting if not downright depressing.

And so, as my flight soars east and the sun sets faster than usual, I think it’s a good idea to peer above the sun, and see what the angels have to say from “behind the curtain.” I don’t believe we can get the pilot to fly any higher; as it is they’re ordering us to “fasten our seatbelts.” So, I guess we are left with no other choice but to lift ourselves over yonder.

A faint but distinct voice can be detected saying: “Torah is not in heaven,” Torah is on earth. Look into the Torah which you have down below, and you will find your answers.

This week we begin reading the third book of the Torah: Vayikra, Leviticus. Being the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim, we also read an additional special chapter called Parshat Zachor.

Zachor means remember, referring to the opening verse of this chapter: Remember what Amalek did to you. During the Persian rule, Haman, just like his ancestor Amalek, wanted to exterminate the Jewish people. And as history has proven – in every generation, this scenario repeats itself over and over again. We therefore read this chapter as a prelude to celebrating Purim, when Haman’s genocide plot was foiled. And the Jewish people once again survived. Not only survived, but thrived.

Being that the Shabbat and the Parsha are both called by the one-word name Zachor, we can derive profound lessons from the very concept of remembering.

Remembering emphasizes two opposites: To remember exposes the sad fact that something vital was forgotten. Simultaneously it offers us hope and redemption: That despite our lapses we can retrieve and reconnect to a past long forgotten. Though we may have wandered away from, and even betrayed, our true selves, we remember – we access the source that was concealed, we connect to the way things were and to the way they ought to be.

There are many important things that are good to remember. But above all, the gift of memory is the ability to reclaim our true identities – something that often gets drowned out in the shuffle of our daily routines and struggles for survival.

I look out the window and see a distant land below. The map tells us that we have just flown over England. Then France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Greece… How much history is etched in each of these countries? How much suffering and blood is absorbed in their earth and rivers? And here we are, whizzing by these nations from above, hardly able to distinguish between one country and the next. Yet, we remember. Zachor compels us to remember.

It feels good to sit up here perched in the heavens; it allows in a fresh perspective, which is somehow difficult to grasp when you are on the ground. It allows you to see the insignificance of so many things we think are important. Yes, all these mighty nations are just a speck in the scheme of things.

And when we come back down to earth what do we do to maintain perspective: Zachor – We remember.

What do we remember? We remember that we have a better self that lies in wait — waiting to be set free.

In a fascinating elucidation on the theme of the book of Leviticus, the commentary Shaloh explains that all the chapters of this book offer us a blueprint how to repair the rift between our present lives and the potential that we all contain; how to return to our quintessential selves.

Existence is comprised of space, time and spirit (being). Initially, at the point of creation, all three were transparent channels of Divine energy. All of space, every corner, was filled with sublime presence. All of time, every moment, was cognizant of sanctity. All beings, man and woman, were connected to their source and purpose. The body of space, time and man were all one with their souls. All was seamless – form and function, matter and spirit, body and soul.

Then, when man for the very first time defied his Creator, a major deviation took place: The entire universe shifted off center and lost focus, the body of time space and man became misaligned from its source. When a machine no longer follows its engineer’s instructions, it will ultimately lose its direction, to the point of causing itself damage. Take health as a case in point: Illness and disease is a result of something (diet, lack of exercise, toxins) impeding the flow of life energy into the body’s cells.

Thus, the Shaloh explains, the need for the book of Vayikra to help us realign ourselves. When man was a transparent channel of the Divine Image he did not need to bring an offering to G-d to get closer (korbon from the word kiruv) to the Divine; he himself was an offering. No individual or group had to be designated as “holy priests;” all were priests. When time was aligned it did not require the sanctification of certain days as holy; all of time was holy. When space was centered, no particular space needed to be sanctified; all of space was sacred.

But now, man must bring an offering and sanctify time and space – as discussed at length in the book of Vayikra. And this work prepares the world to realize its ultimate purpose, when time, space and man will reconnect with their source and once again be a channel for the Divine, but this time the universe will be a permanent home for G-d.

Leviticus in effect is the ultimate act of remembering – reconnecting our present lives on Earth to the way it was meant to be lived; realigning the universe with its purpose.

As we read Shabbos Zachor let us not forget to remember. As you find yourself traversing the earth and repeatedly encountering the lowly earthiness of life, remember – Zachor – that you come from a greater place, you originate from a higher plane.

Lofty thoughts from on high. But then I am rudely reminded of our cramped space and recycled air (not to mention the meals) in this man-made plane. We learned how to build flying machines, but I guess we really will never master the skies. It’s hard to imagine that soaring birds are feeling this confined…

It’s not all sad, however. Up here we can gain some perspective – to see things the way they really are and to remember how they should be.

But in the final analysis, the challenge is how to remain true to ourselves on earth. The Torah, given specifically down below, where there is “nothing new under the sun,” allows us to soar above and beyond the sun, taking us to unprecedented places where there is newness, change and growth.

And to places that help us remember.


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