The ancient Cheder began its Bible curriculum with the Book of Vayikra, but even before this, a child’s first Hebrew lessons commenced with the aleph-bet written on a slate in honey.
The children licked off the honey and got a sweet taste of Torah learning.
Not very hygienic, but highly significant.
It based itself on a verse from Shir HaShirim 4:11,
“Your lips, O my bride, drip honey: honey and milk are under your tongue”.
The symbolic dimension of Shir HaShirim sees the book as the love story of the Jewish people and their Torah and their land (and their God). Both Israel and the Torah are compared to honey and milk.
Israel is “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8 etc.). Torah is honey, a sweet, pleasant experience. Milk is the basic food for nutrition. Being a Jew is not merely a vague feeling of identity, but a daily joy and inspiration.
The Talmud says,
“The world exists on the merit of the little children who study Torah”,
which suggests that every day in every way a Jew must be a little child again and enjoy every letter of every page of Jewish wisdom.
Many occasions were commemorated in Temple times by the bringing of sacrifices.
Some were individual: others were communal. The sacrifices marked sad experiences like guilt and the commission of sins, or happy occasions such as times of joy and celebration.
The Torah explains the what and how of sacrifices but has little to say about the theological question of why.
Actually the question has two parts, sacrifice as an aspect of joy, and sacrifice as an aspect of guilt and sorrow.
In time of joy, a person or nation says,
“God, Your blessing gave me success: I acknowledge Your gift!”
In time of guilt and sin, we are not saying,
“God, You made me sin, You caused my wrongdoing. It’s Your fault I am in this predicament!”
That would be to abdicate all personal responsibility for one’s deeds.
Instead, the message may be,
“God, You told me what to do and I failed to obey. I realise that You were right and I was wrong. My sacrifice is a symbol of my regret, a token of my yearning to return to Your favour!”’
THE RIGHT TO PRAY.
Religion places great stress on prayer.
Much is said of the duty, the power and the vocabulary of prayer. But what about the right to pray? Am I entitled to offer prayer?
The Midrash recognises this problem when it notes that Vayikra ends,
“If a person sins and deals deceitfully with his fellow in the matter of a deposit or pledge, or through robbery, then he shall restore that which he has taken,”
whilst Tzav begins,
“Command Aaron and his sons: This is the law of the burnt offering…”
The Midrash remarks that only if you have observed the first law can you carry out the second. Only if you have morally clean hands can you bring an offering to the Almighty.
In similar fashion, some siddurim begin with the verses, “V’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha” (Love your neighbour as yourself) and “V’ahavta et HaShem Elokecha” (Love the Lord your God); only if you have fulfilled the first can you hope to fulfil the second.
You have to earn the right to pray by first trying to live a life of integrity.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com