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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

24. We Don't Need God to Tell Us Right from Wrong

Updated: Apr 8

Deep down, we always know the difference. We just have to tell ourselves the truth.

Parshah Vakiyra

TL;DR of the Text

An in-depth explanation of each type of sacrificial offering and their rituals and rules.

Major Themes

  • Mediated vs. unmediated spirituality

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Leviticus 1:1-3*

“He called to Moses, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem: from animals - from the cattle or from the flock shall you bring your offering. If one’s offering is an elevation-offering from the cattle, he shall offer an unblemished male.” 

The idea of meticulously regimented animal sacrifices seems strange in modern times. Ancient Jews had many different types of sacrifices, each with their own methodology and rules. This was necessary partly due to the challenges inherent in transitioning from paganism to monotheism. The sacrifices acted as guardrails, in the form of rituals, to build habits to keep the Israelites from returning to their pagan roots. 

There’s another more universal reason to implement ritual sacrifice, which applies to all early belief systems. Humanity is on a political and spiritual trajectory. Spiritually, we have evolved from requiring mediated spiritual connection to where we stand today, which is that we are now mature enough to pursue unmediated spiritual connection. 

Our society still defaults to mediated spiritual connection; indeed, it’s how our world is set up. We see so many examples both from religious and secular spiritual circles where spiritual leaders take advantage of this mediated structure to abuse their power. In religion, the Catholic concept of the confessional exemplifies this dynamic and how it gives unnecessary, outsized power to the priest. 

Instead of viewing these examples as isolated phenomena, I see them as the natural result of our social infrastructure and how it defaults to mediated spirituality. When I say mediated spirituality, I mean the type of spirituality with an intermediary between the believer and their belief. Specifically, I’m talking about spirituality’s capacity to influence morality and our moral behavior.

Secular examples can be slightly more subtle, but still feature charismatic leaders who act as gatekeepers to hidden knowledge. Take the way yoga teacher training programs have evolved in the West. 

In general, religion is a manifestation of mediated spirituality. And despite how susceptible the system is to corruption, it was still a necessary step in our spiritual evolution. Thousands of years ago, we were still primitive beings! Religion, with its rules, rituals, and explanations, provided us with concrete representations of our faith. 

Let’s say we did something wrong during those times. Considering how much we still struggle with morality today, back then, it would have been a miracle for us to even be aware we’d done something immoral. There’s no way we would have had the maturity to change our behavior with nothing more than our willpower and good intentions. We needed structure. We needed to be able to do something concrete about it, such as bring a guilt sacrifice to the Sanctuary.

Mediated spirituality has three stages. The first is what we see in Catholicism, where spiritual leaders intercede between believers and their God. The second, which is the most common form in today’s society, is when believers follow spiritual leaders but still have a direct relationship with their God. The third represents the fastest-growing way spirituality manifests today, which is when a believer ascribes to a particular belief system, but acts as their own arbiter on spiritual matters without a physical, spiritual leader. 

It makes sense for a young civilization such as humanity to require mediated spirituality during the early years of social evolution. But do we still need it now? 

I don’t think so. What does unmediated spirituality look like? I’m sure it takes many forms, but for me, it starts with knowing myself on a deep level. Becoming unable to lie to myself. If I can’t lie to myself - if I reach the point where lying to myself becomes extremely uncomfortable - then I will always know when I’ve done something that makes me feel morally uncomfortable. I may not always know what I’ve done or exactly why I feel a certain way, but my inner self will at least tell me when to look further. 

Leviticus 2:11*

“‘Any meal-offering that you offer to Hashem shall not be prepared leavened, for you shall not cause to go up in smoke from any leavening or fruit-honey as a fire-offering to Hashem.’”  

GIF of Bryan Cranston at the Tony awards slamming his fists down in the air and yelling "I'm bloated as hell and I can't take it anymore!"

I find it entertaining that bread offerings couldn’t be leavened, meaning the bread couldn’t rise. Apparently, God gets bloated, too :) There’s also a lesson in there for us to prevent ourselves from becoming unnecessarily distracted while performing sacred actions. Soft, fluffy bread and sweets are distracting foods; they either make us bloated or they’re pleasurable enough to render it difficult to focus on anything else. 

Leviticus 2:13*

“‘You shall salt your every meal-offering with salt; you may not discontinue the salt of your God’s covenant from upon your meal-offering - on your every offering shall you offer salt.’”

This commandment is rooted in practical, even mundane reasoning: they needed salt! It’s an essential nutrient, especially when wandering in a desert. What better way to emphasize its importance than by saying it has religious value? 

Leviticus 3:17*

“‘An eternal decree for your generations in all your dwelling places; you may not consume any fat or any blood.’”

The rules on kashrut - kosher dietary laws - are extensive. Some have philosophical explanations, some have practical health explanations, and the rest, we can only guess as to their justification. For this particular verse, I can only share my personal experience: my diet became much healthier once I adopted kosher dietary practices. 

Leviticus 4:13*

“‘If the entire assembly of Israel shall err, and a matter became obscured from the eyes of the congregation, and they commit one from among all the commandments of Hashem that may not be done, and they become guilty…’”

I appreciate how the Torah created atonement rituals for both individuals and the community. These types of rituals are essential to elevate a group of people from a collection of individuals to a community. 

Leviticus 4:22*

“‘When a ruler sins…’”

Rulers do not have immunity! This important acknowledgment created the idea in the Israelites’ minds that rulers must be held accountable. 

Leviticus 5:11*

“‘But if his means are insufficient for two turtledoves or for two young doves, then he shall bring, his offering for that which he sinned, a tenth-ephah of fine flour for a sin offering.’”

Participation in early Judaism was not predicated on whether you could afford it; everyone contributed what they were able to, and it was enough. 

Leviticus 5:21, 24*

“‘If a person will sin and commit a treachery against Hashem by lying to his comrade regarding a pledge or a loan or a robbery…he shall repay its principal and add a fifth to it.’”

When I read this passage, I thought the punishment was surprisingly fair for the time. You have a responsibility to make someone whole financially, plus a bit extra, but not so much as to be oppressive.

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.



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