No Substitutes – Behukotai 5779

D'var Torah | Leviticus

Many definitions have been constructed to help the uninitiated understand the differences between the various movements in Judaism. Whether true or not, these definitions reveal more about the framers of the definitions than about the movements defined. On definition distinguishes among the three major movements in Judaism by addressing ritual observance. In the Orthodox movement, all members are expected to keep kosher. In the Conservative movement, the rabbi and cantor are expected to keep kosher. And in the Reform movement, only the rabbi is expected to know what kosher means.


As reported in the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey and the 1991 Toronto Jewish Congress Survey (and reinforced by subsequent surveys), not all Orthodox Jews keep kosher. Many more Conservative Jews keep kosher than just the rabbis and cantors. And Reform Jews know about – and even observe – kashrut in numbers greater than would otherwise be expected. From this data, the proposed distinction between movements is wrong. On the other hand, the data describe a tendency that is not too far from the mark, namely, the more liberal the affiliation, the greater the likelihood that Jewish knowledge and observance will be relegated to the elite. In the Reform and Conservative movements affiliated members tend to leave the task of living Jewish lives to their religious leaders. The “ordinary member” assigns observance to the select few, deriving some vicarious satisfaction in knowing that the leader is practicing for the entire community, while taking little or no responsibility for himself or herself. It is concern for precisely this condition that the Torah expresses.


When it comes to animals dedicated for sacrifice in the Temple, says the Torah (Leviticus 27:10), there can be no substitution or replacement. Every animal that is sanctified to God must remain in God’s service. This ought to include every Jew since the Torah calls the people Israel “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Each member of the people Israel is thus sanctified to God. No one can take the place of anyone else. No one else can be assigned each Jew’s responsibilities. Each and every Jew must fulfill the obligations of Jewish life by personal observance, not vicarious experience.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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