Book of blood & guts
People – many, many people – hate the book of Leviticus. All that blood and guts and priestly ritual: it’s so old school, so over the top. All those dead animals and rules. Can we skip this part?
Not me. I’m happy to be here in the meat (if you’ll pardon the pun) of the religion. I like the non-modernity of this book, the visceral worship style, clear sense of morality, and dividing line between clean and unclean, holy and not. Leviticus, as I write in this week’s poem, The Book of Blood & Guts, is about doing a thing right.
Yes, Leviticus is the place where we find prohibitions on making marks on oneself and lying with men the way one does with a woman (interpreted widely as bans on tattoos & homosexuality). Yes, there’s plenty here that makes me feel kinda oogy. But the 3rd book of the Torah is also where we find the communal day of atonement, loving your neighbor, and the right of the land to rest every seven years. The moral of the story is plain: it’s not enough for a people to define itself by a shared redemption from slavery or even the 10 Commandments. There must be day-to-day ritual, the basic stuff of culture: all the ways in which the Israelites and their God could distinguish themselves from the rest of the world and prove their allegiance to one another. (For a pretty good summary of the book, see Wikipedia.)
This first week’s reading from Leviticus wastes no time. We’re knee-deep in sacrifices from the get-go: herds, flocks, grain. Offerings for guilt, individual or communal. Plenty of messiness, a ritual practice rooted not in the mind, but in the body. We like to pretend that we’re a different kind of people, that we ourselves would never institute or participate in anything of this sort, but I’m not so sure. (Don’t look at me that way. I’m just not sure we’re so different a people.) The dozen-plus weeks of readings ahead of us always brings me happily up close and personal with the primal nature of our existential desires. See for yourself — it may not disappoint.