In the final chapter of Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus) in Parashat Behukotai we are presented with a description of three types of gifts that can be given for the sanctuary. The first type of gift is giving money equal to the “value” of a certain person. The value of a person depended on their age and gender.
The second type of gift is to give animals or property. Both could be sold, and the money received was used for the upkeep of the sanctuary. If the donor wanted, the animal could be used for a sacrifice instead of being sold. If a per- son decided to take the gift back again, they could pay the Cohanim (priests) for the value of the gift plus one-fifth more and still get it back.
The third type of gift was dedicated to God and could not be taken back again.
Thus, people, animals or land could be given as gifts in three different ways. The Book of Leviticus ends with rules for tzedaka, and then this final sentence, “These are the commandments that God gave to Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai.”
On June 7, we will celebrate the festival of Shavuot, the 6th of Sivan, when we will focus upon God’s gift to us, to Moses, the Jewish people and the world the Torah with its commandments. While we understand that this Revelation, as described in Sefer Shemot (Exodus) happened once, at Sinai, and mentioned here at the end of Leviticus, our tradition teaches that Revelation is ongoing — think Mishneh, Talmud, Codes, Responsa and more to this very day.
Those of us who live authentic and vibrant Jewish lives outside the traditional boundaries of halakha (binding Jewish law) experience God’s Torah of Truth in many ways, too. For some of us it may be through our relationships, for example, with other human beings. Martin Buber’s writings (in particular, his notion of the “I- Thou” relationship) speak to our very modern condition.
For others God comes to us when we let go and enjoy the beauty in the world, what nature has to give us. Still for others God’s presence is most felt and revealed to us in our darkest moments of despair and pain when right there “next to us” so to speak, God lifts and holds us up, close like the air we are breathing.
Wherever you may find yourself on June 7, erev Shavuot, the 6th of Sivan, take a moment to remember the giving of this ancient gift of Torah, the context in which it was offered and think about how God’s presence may fill your life to- day — for we have learned that ultimately, “God is, wherever, we let God in.”
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinical Association.)