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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Shortcut to Atonement


Taanis 27

S’iz shver tzu zayn a Yid” – It’s not easy being Jewish – has been a catch phrase amongst our people for hundreds of years of persecution, struggle and commitment.  Sometimes we use it when thinking about anti-Semitism, but even in the good times, it’s not so easy being Jewish.   It takes real commitment, dedication and effort.   We have 613 commandments to obey and a Code of Jewish Law detailing a host of rabbinic enactments and community customs that we are required to abide by.

The Christians have it so much easier, right?  All they have to do is profess their faith in Jesus and they are considered good Christians!  Why is it so difficult to be Jewish?  Are there any shortcuts?

The Mishnah states, “The Israelites of the mishmar (division serving on rotation in the Holy Temple) would gather in their cities, and read the story of creation,” while the corresponding priests and Levites served on their behalf in the Temple.

How do we know this?  Rabbi Jacob bar Acha quotes Rabbi Assi: Were it not for the maamadot (division) gatherings, heaven and earth could not endure, as the Torah states, “And Abraham said:  L-rd G-d, how do I know that I shall inherit the Land?” 

The meaning of the verse is that Abraham said to G-d, “Master of the Universe, if Israel sins before You, will You do unto them as You did to the generation of the Flood and to the generation of the Tower of Babel?”
 G-d replied, “No.”
He then said to him, “Master of the Universe, let me know how I shall inherit it.”
G-d answered, “Bring Me three calves, and three goats.”  G-d explained to Abraham that in the merit of the sacrifices, the Children of Israel would inherit the Land of Israel.
Abraham then continued, “Master of the Universe!  That makes sense while the Temple remains standing, but when the Temple will no longer be what will become of them?”
G-d replied, “I have already long ago provided for them in the Torah the order of sacrifices.  Whenever they read it I will deem it as if they had offered them before me and I will forgive them for all their sins.”

What an awesome deal our forefather struck for us!   If you want to be pardoned for all your sins, all you need to do is read the Torah’s order of sacrifices!  As a result of this teaching, our Sages wrote the sacrificial order into the daily prayers.  Every morning and afternoon, our prayers are introduced with readings of the sacrifices.

Strangely though, most synagogues skip over these paragraphs.  Why? 

Sin and atonement are for the most part very personal experiences.  Certainly we have communal sacrifices which are offered to atone for communal transgressions.  And when we recite the confessional prayer we recite it in the plural form so that we can include all our brethren in our prayers.   But ultimately if you want to atone for your sins, it is between you and G-d.

Reading this Gemara, one can imagine that there was a time that, in an effort to achieve atonement for their sins, people would spend hours reading the sacrificial order.   Contrast this with our communal prayers in the synagogue where everyone is watching the clock and people need to get out to work.  There’s simply no time for long drawn-out reflection and meditation.  And so the sacrificial prayers were relegated to the home – either you must arrive early to synagogue to recite them or meditate upon them prior to coming.

Unfortunately, with the passage of time, we’ve forgotten how important these prayers are.  G-d promises Abraham that upon recitation of the sacrificial order, He forgives all your sins!  And yet most of us just skip them because we figure that if they’re not important enough to chant communally in the synagogue, then they’re probably not very significant.  How wrong we are!

But you need to be serious if you want the atonement.  It goes without saying that reading the order of the sacrifices doesn’t just mean mumbling off a few words.  It means picturing yourself standing there by the Holy Altar in the Temple in Jerusalem, surrounded by the priests and Levites and feeling the energy of the service.   You look at this animal being sacrificed and you think to yourself, “That should really be me!  But G-d, in His abundant mercy, has configured a system of atonement whereby an animal can replace me and I can achieve atonement through its sacrifice on my behalf.” 


When you read the sacrificial order with the right frame of mind and devotion, all your sins will be forgiven and your day will be radically changed for the better.   Try it today!