I have an addiction to the Food Network. I could spend hours watching other people prepare food, talk about food, and even eat food, but I never end up watching for long stretches of time because it always makes me too hungry. How I wish I could taste or simply just smell the delicious foods being prepared. Whether it’s Bobby Flay barbecuing, the Chopped competitors creating their fast-paced masterpieces, or the sugary sweets of Cupcake Wars, it all looks so good I wish the programming was scratch and sniff.
Reading the Torah there some instances when I wish I was able to be present in that exact moment being described. The book of Vayikra has several of those moments for me. This week as we read parshat Vayikra, we begin the third book of the Torah, which details the many sacrifices and the active mitzvot of living as an Israelite. This begins with the explanation of the sacrifices that we are to give daily, weekly, and yearly. We learn that there can be a sacrifice made in times of joy and in times of sorrow. There is a special sacrifice for being guilty of a sin and others for complete thanksgiving. As sefer Vayikra continues, we learn about the laws of how to treat one another, how to engage in holy relationships, and how our calendar and meals should reflect our innermost values and desires.
It may sound strange to say that hearing about these laws makes me hungry, but virtually all of the sacrifices have to do with food or food stuffs over a hot fire. It reads like a barbecue recipe, with fragrant smells abounding.
Interestingly, the Torah describes each burnt offering as “a gift of pleasing odor to the Lord.” That is to say that the smell of the sacrifices is something that God could take in. Anything wrong with this picture? Well, the rabbis certainly had a problem with this notion. After all we are told not to create “images of God” and that God is not in human form, and yet here we are, reading about a God with a nose. This might lead to an incorrect understanding that we are offering sacrifices not to God but to some other anthropomorphic “God,” which violates the Torah.
To reconcile this controversial thought, Rashi, the great medieval commentator, suggests that what is pleasing to God is not the aroma, but the fact that Israel is doing God’s will. In other words, it’s not the physical odor of the sacrifice, but the physical act of the sacrifice that matters to God.
God’s version of the “smell-o-vision” that I so unashamedly desire is the vision of his creations doing good in the world. Parshat Vayikra teaches that the ephemeral proof (the “odor” if you will) of our good deeds is only one aspect of mitzvot, and probably the least important one at that. It is the long-term and long-lasting results we’re after. Those are the results that matter to God and the ones that should matter to us.
Now if you’ll please excuse me, this talk of food is making me hungry.