Leviticus: the call of love

The third in Lord Sacks's essays on the weekly Torah portion


Leviticus: The Code of Holiness
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Maggid, £15.99

Pity the poor barmitzvah boy or batmitzvah girl whose birthday falls during Leviticus. The middle book of the Torah has its moments - "You shall love your neighbour as yourself". But all those priestly rites and smoking entrails. And when it's not talking about sin-offerings and forbidden fats, there's leprosy and bodily discharges.

Leviticus may be the most difficult book of the Torah for modern readers to digest, but is possibly the "key text of Judaism, says Lord Sacks in his new collection of essays on it, the third in his series of Covenant & Conversation commentaries.

The priestly book, he writes in the introduction, communicates the "absolute and austere monotheism that made Judaism unique" but also the aspiration to holiness by which finite human beings can come closer to the infinite God.

Its Hebrew name Vayikra, "He called, summoned, beckoned", is "the language of invitation, friendship, love, not an order we obey," he writes. "In love God called Abraham to follow Him… In love God calls the people of Israel to come close to Him, to be regular visitors at His House, to share his quality of holiness, difference, apartness: to become, as it were, mediators of His presence to the world."

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