Community Rabbi Corner, March 22, 2023

Rabbi Ari Isenberg
Congregation B'nai Israel 
Millburn, NJ 
Parashat Vayikra

This Shabbat, we begin the Book of Vayikra.  I’d like to suggest that this book is the original social media app. Move over Insta and Tik Tok, here comes Vayikra! I know, this is quite a leap. To understand what I’m suggesting, we have to examine the language of Vayikra’s keywords.  A korban is often translated as a sacrifice, and a mitzvah is often translated as a commandment, but in variants of their original meanings, these words open up an entirely different way of understanding the underlying purpose behind sacrifices and commandments.

I was reading a commentary by Anita Diamant on the origin of the word mitzvah. She suggests that it denotes moments of connection, bringing two parts together, creating belonging. Diamant says that we must “see mitzvah not as commandment, but as an opportunity to connect: to recognize something bigger than ourselves – loved ones, ancestors, community, history, culture, future, universe, all living things.”

If we start to see mitzvah as our ability to connect with others, with community, we might be even more inclined to label many of our daily actions as mitzvot.
What about the word korban?  From the root kuf-reish-vet, it implies closeness, a drawing near.  Samson Raphael Hirsch referred to korbanot as an act of approaching, of coming close, as becoming related to something else.  One who brings a sacrifice at the Temple is therefore coming into close relationship with God.  And when an entire community brings korbanot together, they are not only entering in relationship with God, but connecting with each other as well. 

Understood through its original language, mitzvot and korbanot are much like today’s social media tools - they operate as mechanisms to draw entities near, to bring us close to one another. Perhaps there’s a warning in that comparison too.  Korbanot must be offered at specific, appropriate times and measurements. Too much or too frequent can have negative impacts.  The same is true of social media. It can be a remarkable tool for connecting, but being measured and balanced with it is vital for a positive outcome.

So the next time you fulfill a mitzvah, yes, think of the Divine connection you’re establishing, and also think of mitzvah and korban as tools, vehicles, to draw all of us together in connection so we can learn from one another, comfort each other, draw inspiration from others, experience joy with each other… and in doing so, hopefully we’ll feel a little less alone and a little more bound together as one.