Sacks - Covenant & Conversation - 3 - Leviticus

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks - Covenant & Conversation. A weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible. Leviticus: The Book of Holiness
Of all the Mosaic books, Vayikra, Leviticus, is the one most out of step with contemporary culture. Many find it difficult to relate to its concerns. It opens with an account of sacrifices, something we have not experienced for close to two millennia. Its preoccupation with ritual purity and defilement seems to come from another age, and with the exception of the menstrual cycle, has little contemporary application. The long account of tzaraat, usually translated as leprosy, is a good example of the difficulties the text poses. Are we talking about a disease, a defilement, or a punishment, and how, in any case, is it relevant to a spiritual life and our relationship with God?
Little happens in Leviticus. There is not much narrative and the little that does exist is troubling. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, die on the day of the consecration of the Tabernacle simply, it seems, because of an act of misplaced enthusiasm. Even when Leviticus speaks about ethics, it does so in a perplexing way. The great chapter 19, with its majestic summons - “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” - mixes moral imperatives with ritual and seemingly irrational commands, like the prohibition against wearing clothes of mixed wool and linen, in a way that challenges conventional ideas of logic and coherence. The mindset of Leviticus is far removed from that of secular culture in the West in the twenty-first century.
Yet Leviticus is a - perhaps even the - key text of Judaism. It is here that we read for the first time the command to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” It is the source of the even greater moral principle, “You shall love [the stranger] as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt.” It is Leviticus that forbids us to take vengeance or bear a grudge, taking a stand against the psychopathology of hatred and violence. It contains one of the most remarkable of all religious ideas, that we are summoned to be holy because God is holy. Not only are we created in God’s image. We are called on to act in God’s ways.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks - Covenant & Conversation. A weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible. Leviticus: The Book of Holiness

Maggid Books & The Orthodox Union, Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., New Milford, Jerusalem, 2015. - 358 pp.
ISBN 978-1-59264-022-5, hardcover

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks - Covenant & Conversation. A weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible. Leviticus: The Book of Holiness - Contents

Leviticus: The Democratisation of Holiness
  • Between Destiny and Chance 
  • The Gift of Being Able to Give 
  • Maimonides on Sacrifices 
  • What Do We Sacrifice? 
  • Dimensions of Sin 
  • The Sins of a Leader
  • Violence and the Sacred Giving 
  • Thanks Blood, Idolatry, and War 
  • Why Civilisations Die 
  • Jeremiah on Sacrifices
  • The Eighth Day 
  • Fire: Holy and Unholy 
  • Spontaneity: Good or Bad? 
  • Between Hope and Humanity 
  • The Integrity of Nature
  • Circumcision. Sex, and Violence 
  • The Circumcision of Desire 
  • The Sacrifices of Childbirth 
  • Of Skin Disease, Mildew, and Evil Speech 
  • The General and the Prophet
  • The Power of Speech 
  • Language and Relationship 
  • The Self-Inflicted Wound 
  • Is There Such a Thing as Lashon Tov? 
  • The Laws of Purity 
  • The Outsider
  • From Never Again to Ever Again 
  • The Scapegoat: Shame and Guilt 
  • The Scapegoat: Perversion of an Idea 
  • Thinking Fast and Slow 
  • Surviving Catastrophe 
  • Why Judaism Needs a Land
  • From Priest to People 
  • The Priestly Moral Imagination 
  • Being Holy 
  • The Logic of Love 
  • Do Not Take Revenge
  • Sanctifying the Name 
  • The Calendar 
  • Three Versions of Shabbat 
  • New Light on an Old Controversy 
  • Sukkot: The Dual Festival 
  • The Blasphemer
  • Eminent Domain 
  • Evolution or Revolution?
  • The Concept of Redemption 
  • The Chronological Imagination 
  • Freedom and Equality 
  • Minority Rights
  • The Birth of Hope 
  • When Curses Are a Blessing 
  • The Politics of Responsibility 
  • All Israel Are Responsible for One Another 
  • The Rejection of Rejection
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