Last week, we began reading the book of Leviticus, and probably a dozen times during that week, I read a d'var torah about Leviticus that began, "this Torah portion stinks."
Well, none of them actually said that; they all used a lot more words to make it sound nicer. "The book of Leviticus, dealing with laws of the ancient Sacrificial System, makes little sense to us, in our modern world." "No one relishes giving a sermon about Leviticus." "How are we, in our day and age, supposed to make sense of these strange regulations about sacrifices, and blood, and offerings, and so on?" None of these are direct quotes (to protect the guilty), but they're all pretty close to something I read, and something I read every year. It's not only this portion; there are a few others, but never as consistently. Every teaching about the book of Leviticus begins by telling us how boring, irrelevant or otherwise strange this book is.
I hate this. It drives me crazy. Let me explain why:
- Don't insult the Torah. I know it sounds trite, but I just don't think that, in the long run, we're going to find meaning and inspiration in a book which we deride. This book, all of it, has been the source of our people's strength and connection with God for thousands of years. Maybe we should start with the assumption that it has something to teach us.
- Don't be too impressed with yourself. All of these teachings that begin as anti-Leviticus screeds go on to find some insight in the text. Some way to reinterpret or filter this "obscure" text so that it does, in fact, have meaning. And, inherently, this means that the text isn't so great, but the interpreter sure knows his/her stuff! It's like a magician: "look, there is no meaning in this book, but I, the great Karnak, will make meaning appear!"
- Don't degrade the teaching. This one is the real kicker for me. Very often, after we get through all of the "Leviticus is junk" stuff, we find ourselves with a really great teaching. But, the teacher has just told us that it's not really found in the book. The book is, after all, meaningless. But, we can pretend that the teaching is there. Some Willing Suspension of Disbelief, and we're all better people.
Hey - if the teaching is found in the book (or, if you think it is), then teach it. If it isn't, then don't. But, if it is, then guess what? The book - it isn't so bad. You (and we) just learned something from it!