The Torah portion for this Shabbat is found in Leviticus 1:1 through 5:26 and is called "Va'Yikra," which means "and He called." This is actually the name of the book of the Bible from which it comes. Yes, in Hebrew, there is no book called Leviticus. The entire book deals with G-d calling His people unto Himself. This portion is the account of the L-rd calling to Moses and speaking to him about all of the offerings that Israel was to make and about the consequences of sin.
The word used throughout this parashah and in fact, throughout the book of Leviticus is the Hebrew word pronounced korban for which there is really no good translation. The usual translation is "sacrifice" and sometimes it is translated as "offering." Neither gives the true sense of the Hebrew. "Sacrifice" implies that the person making it is being deprived of what is precious to him or her. HaShem finds no joy in our being deprived of anything. In fact, He sent His Son so that we might have abundant life.
"Offering" comes closer to the mark, but still misses the exact point. Is G-d's anger appeased when we bring Him gifts? Does He find pleasure in our puny attempts to bring Him a gift like a child when a parent returns from a journey? G-d is not enriched by what we can give Him.
The root word from which it derives is pronounced korb, which means "to come near." The one bringing korban is coming near to G-d in a way that is in no other way possible. We are elevated to a place that is only available to the obedient; a place of heightened spiritual awareness of the closeness of the G-d of all creation. Since we have not seen an animal sacrificed in over 1900 years, it is difficult for us to imagine how cutting the throat of a bull or a sheep could be considered in any way holy, but imagine the first time that Aaron offered a sacrifice at the dedication of the Tabernacle. The very Presence of G-d hovered over the Tent of Meeting and His Holy Fire consumed the offering brought according to His exact instruction.
Every time in the book of Leviticus that the offering is mentioned, it is said to be given to YHVH, the Four Letter Name of G-d. This is the Name which shows His mercy. The korban is the means by which He allows us to experience His mercy and to be rejuvenated by His mercy and spared the Fire that is due. It is the way of coming near to G-d in a way specifically ordained by HaShem that elevates us into His Presence and allows our offerings and our prayers to ascend into His nostrils as a savory incense.
The theme of the Haftorah reading is similar, but with even grater hope; Isaiah 43:21-44:23 includes the following passages. Verses 43:21- 25 says, "The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise. Yet you have not called on Me, O Jacob; but you have become weary of Me, O Israel. You have not brought to Me the sheep of your burnt offerings, nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, nor wearied you with incense. You have bought Me not sweet cane with money, nor have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices; rather you have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities. I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins." Even when we are disobedient as was Israel, He promises to spare us for His own sake." But even more than spare us, He promises to do so much more.
Chapter 44, verses 2 & 3 hold this promise: "I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, The L-rd, the G-d of Israel, who calls you by your name." What a Mighty G-d we serve. And even when we do not serve Him as we ought, He is none the less Mighty and Awesome. He provides everything we have need of and so much more.
But beyond His provision, He calls us by name. Imagine, the G-d who spoke the entire world into existence and who has kept the entire planet spinning and in order, calls your name. When I think about that, it moves me into a place of awe and wonder. Why would He even consider me? Why would He <i>be</i> my Provision? And why, O why, would He call my name? Va'Yikra, and He called. He is calling you and me to come near to Him. My prayer for you and for my family is that we will come near to G-d in all of our ways and that we will live in such a way that our entire lives ascend into His nostrils as savory incense.