It is important to remember that these aren’t just any old rules. There is something more meaningful about Leviticus’s rules. It’s not just about what we should or shouldn’t do. Leviticus is all about how to infuse holiness, goodness, and the Divine presence into our community and into our individual actions.
Back in Israelite times this meant sacrificing animals at the temple. Yick again! But let’s see how these rules still apply to us, even in a world of PETA and vegetarianism. Here are the instructions regarding the sin offering. The sin offering is the sacrifice you would offer if you did something bad:
6 and one shall bring as a forfeit unto the Eternal, for the sin of which one is guilty, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin-offering; and the priest shall make atonement for the sin on that person’s behalf.
7 But if one’s means suffice not for a lamb, then one shall bring a forfeit for that wherein one hath sinned, two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, unto the Eternal: one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering.
A very interesting thing happens in this Torah passage. The guilty person is told to make amends for his/her actions by bringing a lamb or a goat to the temple to sacrifice. But then it says that if she/he can’t afford to bring a lamb, she/he should bring two little birds.
Basically, it’s not the animal that’s important; it’s the fact that the person brought it. All the Torah asks is that we bring something – anything – to show that we really are sorry. We have to give a piece of ourselves to show that we mean business. This is why we come to temple on Yom Kippur. We could repent and say sorry to God alone in our homes, but it is much more meaningful to come together as a community. We have to look one another in the eye and ask one another’s forgiveness. In doing so, we bridge the gap between people that our sins may have formed.
We also share in this experience so we can learn how to share in each other’s sadness and in each other’s happiness. There is no better moment to share.