The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Iyar 16, 5770/April 30, 2010

"I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the L-rd Who sanctifies you."
(Leviticus 22:32)
31st day of the Omer

As we near the end of the book of Leviticus it is, perhaps, a good time to step back and marvel at what we have been encountering on a weekly basis since we first read the opening words, "And He called to Moses, and the L-rd spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting..." (ibid 1:1) Traditionally, the book of Leviticus is also referred to as the Book of the Priests, (Torat Kohanim), because of the detailed instructions imparted within its words to the priests who man the Divine service in the Tabernacle, (and later, Holy Temple). But to grasp the entire depth and breadth of the book of Leviticus, we must hearken back once again to the electrifying words spoken by G-d to Israel as they faced Mount Sinai: "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6) As exhilarating and daunting as these words are, so full with challenge and promise, on the face of it, their true import, the secret of how to bring these words to life, to our lives and how to live these words, are revealed throughout the book of Leviticus, from its first words to its last. For Leviticus is not merely a manual for the Kohanim, it is a guide to leading a life of holiness for every human being.

In the book of Exodus we witness an enslaved family become a liberated and independent people. In Leviticus we are instructed how to transform ourselves from being a liberated and independent people to becoming a holy nation. In the book of Exodus the children of Israel busy themselves with the task of constructing the Tabernacle and the vessels for the Divine service. In Leviticus we learn how to take this Tabernacle of wood and skins, and breath life into it, filling it, and the nation, with the spirit of the living G-d, enveloping our lives in His presence, as surely and as vitally as we are enveloped in the air that we breath, that fills our lungs and grants us life.

The current Torah reading of parashat Emor, (Leviticus 21:1-24:23), opens with the admonition to Kohanim not to defile themselves through contact with a dead corpse. And while these instructions are specific to the Kohanim, the message applies to all Israel and to all who attach themselves to the G-d of Israel. Death is the ultimate illusion of finality and of disconnect from G-d. To accept death as the end of life is to set a limit and a border to G-d's embrace of all creation. As if to say that G-d can create a living thing and then just let it slip away beyond His grasp. The only thing truly morbid about death is this very thought. Therefore, G-d's instruction to the priests to keep aloof from the seductive illusion of death is no less an imperative to all His children. By doing so the priests maintain their integrity as priests, and the people of Israel become the holy nation that G-d intended.

In this single commandment we see the twofold nature of the book of Leviticus, how it imparts spiritual life both to the Kohanim and to the entire nation; how it instructs us to be holy by clinging to Him, and by separating ourselves from all that claims to be beyond G-d's purview. The modern proposition of a secular entity in life, parallel to, or even superior to, the realm of G-d's omnipresence, is utterly rejected by Leviticus. And so too, is the idea of the nation of Israel, somehow void of, or bereft of the Holy Temple. It is no coincidence that Leviticus is the heart, the very center of the Five Books of Moses, and it is no coincidence that this heart consists of two sides, the service of the Holy Temple, and the obligations of the nation. For when the nation and the Temple beat as one heart, the people of Israel live, and the spirit of G-d fills our very being.

Tune in to this week's live Pesach Sheni TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven gear up to celebrate the exciting, invigorating Holiday of Second Chances: Never give up! That's the special message of the Second Passover. The fine art of living is the theme of this week's Torah portion. We are dedicated to life, and must never be distracted by the illusion of death. These are the special instructions given to the Kohanim, the priests who officiate in the Holy Temple. But we can all aspire to that same heightened level of reality by observing Hashem's cycle of the seasons as outlined in this Torah portion, and by internalizing the message of the Holy Temple as it is embodied by the Menorah and the Showbread.

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