Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Leviticus begins

Last night was another meeting of the Torah group. We finished the book of Exodus and began Leviticus. Exodus was rich and full of Judaism's greatest saga until we got to the Tabernacle section, which is kind of repetitive and dry. Leviticus is all about rules and regulations, but they are strange and interesting in their way, and written in an entirely different sort of voice than the Tabernacle section, so the change is welcome.
The book we were discussing, which I call "Viagra" because the Hebrew name sounds like that, put forward a couple of interesting ideas. The first was the notion that God filled up the entire portable Tent of Meeting when he hovered over it as a cloud by day and a fire by night. Even Moses couldn't go in then because God occupied all the space. But God willingly withdrew just enough to let Moses in. This spurred a conversation about how creation was conceived in Judaism as a kind of relationship, God interacting with creation.
The Jewish mystics had a name for this: Tzimtzum. The idea was that in order to create the world, God had to contract, rather as God contracted in the Tent of Meeting, to make room for the creation. This goes back I suppose to the notion of creating the world as a respiration. The soul, nefesh in Hebrew, is a breath, so this makes sense.
Another thing in the book worthy of notice is the idea that when the priest sins and must make a sacrifice, it is the community that is guilty. Since we all wondered about why Aaron, who made the golden calf, though he offered a lame excuse for it (Gosh darn it! Just threw that lump of gold into the fire, and out came a calf!), was never called to task for it, while thousands of members of the community died of the plague for that reason, I wondered if this doctrine could explain that. Apparently, no one has commented on it, so perhaps I will have to. There are many Torah sites on which I can do that.


Lou said...

The analogy of breathing and creation is so primal and intimate. Thank you as always for sharing these fascinating ideas.

Robbi said...

Yes it is. And though the wordplay may not have been clear in my blog, "nefesh" means both soul and breath in Hebrew.