From “Why?” to “Wonderful!” (Quick comment on Torah portion Va-Yikrah)

When I was handed my Torah portion to study for my Bar Mitzvah—Leviticus 5:17-26—many years ago I was SO disappointed. “What possible meaning,” I wondered, “do these ancient laws have? Why couldn’t I get some of the cool stories that my friends got?”

Years later I realized my portion contained two vital teachings for today:

  • Ignorance of the law is no excuse. (Leviticus 5:17)
  • Victims of financial crimes must be compensated by the perpetrator. (Leviticus 5:24)

I later learned that such compensation was so important to the rabbis that they interpreted the 20% penalty mandated by the Torah into 25%. (B. Baba Metzia 54a) WOW! How great it could be if that law were applied today. Imagine Bernard Madoff having to pay each of his victims everything he swindled from them plus 25%.

I also began to ask: If my dull and dry and dull  Bar MItzvah portion could have so much to teach us today, how much more can we learn if we apply the Torah’s exciting stories to our lives?

Looking back I see that is where my career choice began

My growing interest in the meaning of the Torah’s stories contributed to my decision to become a rabbi. Years after my ordination I studied four years part-time at Vanderbilt Divinity School to earn a D. Min. in Biblical Interpretation. Twenty years of continuous study after completing that degree I decided to write my short book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.


I marvel at the strange ways the Eternal One works. If I had received a more “interesting” Torah portion, my whole life might have been different. Now I treasure every opportunity the Eternal One provides to share the ideas in Biblical stories that have changed my life and which can, I believe, change yours as well.


7 thoughts on “From “Why?” to “Wonderful!” (Quick comment on Torah portion Va-Yikrah)

  1. My very first spiritual awakening occurred at the age of 17 when I was leaning against a Cypress tree in the Ocala National Forest. I was a counselor on my “morning prayer walk” at church camp and our assignment was to read two verses from the Book of Matthew in the New Testament about being the “light of the world” and not hiding our light under a bushel. To my amazement, I actually understood and felt like this was a message from the Eternal One (I love that name) sent just for me. It set me on my path as well. I, too, marvel at how sacred writings from every tradition have a real and immediate transforming power for us if we will simply listen to our hearts as well as our minds when we read them. I am enjoying your beautiful lessons here very much. Thank you. Jeanie


  2. So interesting, (may I call you) Jeanie! Matthew’s “light of the World is taken from Isaiah. The Hebrew allows “light of the world” or “light to the world (or more accurately “nations”). I like “to” better because it defines our mission as creatures created in the Divine Image: to bring light to the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you may call me Jeanie if I may call you Stephen. 🙂 Thanks for the info that “light of the world” came from Isaiah. I’ve always loved Isaiah! I should go back to him to remember why; if I once knew “light of the world” came from Isaiah, I’d forgotten it. Yes, I like “to” better too, for the same reason you mention. Oh, and there was “salt of the earth” in one of those verses too. Okay, time to check my sources….it’s Matthew 13-16. Still one of my favorite passages…..”Let your light so shine….” Still trying to do that! May I say that you are certainly doing an excellent job of it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s