Food, Our Innards, and God's Inwardness

We enter Leviticus, the book that describes how food becomes the crucial connection between the Israelites and God.

We often hear the words "sacrifical cult" used to describe the process of offerings to God in a Shrine. But this phrase is so vague, bloodless, and theoretical that it screens from us the truth: All the offerings were food.

Mutton, beef, barley, wheat, bread leavened and unleavened, various fruits, pancakes. All the foods of the Land of Israel, brought to its center with the sense and awareness that human beings alone did not create this food, nor sun alone or seed alone or soil alone or rain alone — but all of them together, united by a Life-Force that infuses all the universe with holiness and mystery.

Often we dismiss the "sacrifical cult" with contempt — today we use words, not foods, to worship — but this process took earth and body seriously. We have lost, as well as gained, by severing our selves from earthiness.

The Hebrew word that the Bible most often used for these offerings of food: "korbanot," means "that which is brought near." A closely related Hebrew word means "innards," as in "guts" or "intestines." Korbanot are what bring the inwardness of God near to the innards of humans.

In English today, the word most often used as a translation for korbanot is "sacrifices." Literally, that word means "making sacred"; in practice, it has taken on the somewhat ascetic flavor of "giving away." "Offering" or "gift" gives more of the taste of intimacy that the Hebrew implies; but even these words sound more like "sending away" than like "bringing close."

To get really close to the Hebrew meaning, we would have to turn into nouns such English words as "nearing" or "innering" or perhaps "endearing": Israelites brought "innerings" to the Temple.

By using the word "korbanot," the Bible puts every human speaker, every human reader, not only in the position of giving food away, but in the position of receiving it. But at the Shrine, who is receiving food? God. So every human who brings food to the Shrine thereby stands in the place of God — receiving food. The face of everyone who brings the food is a face of the God Who savors the food. And a great deal of the food is given to the poor, the landless who cannot grow food on their own.

God is not left to hunger in loneliness, not left to weep unfed. And therefore — neither are the people.

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