Amidst descriptions of the Temple service, and other Mitzvot, the Parsha this week contains an intriguing command. Any man that offers a sacrifice to G-d outside of the Temple Courtyard, and hence will have not brought his offering to the Temple, “Before G-d”, it is as if he has shed blood, and will be cut off from his people. This seems straight forward enough. The Temple service needs to be respected, and all offerings must take place under its jurisdiction. But upon closer examination we are left with a problem; why would someone want to offer a sacrifice anywhere other than the Temple Courtyard? Seemingly a religious, spiritual, “offering” kind of guy, would play by the rules and not even think of sacrificing outside of the Temple! Yet the Torah finds it necessary to specifically warn about just this kind of possibility. Why?
As human beings, we are hardwired to try and fix our surroundings. A major aspect of our nature is the inability to let things stay as they are, a restless urge to repair, update, progress, etc. This drive certainly comes from a holy source, and has produced wonderful outcomes throughout our history. However, along with this natural tendency to manipulate our surroundings, comes a Divinely ordained directive to respect and maintain certain standards. Within Judaism, there is much room for growth and self expression, whether through originating novel Torah insights, helping communities grow,finding ways to be more inclusive of others, and so on. However, all of these innovations must be rooted within the Courtyard, within the spirit and the boundaries of the Torah.
Sometimes there comes a person, who genuinely wants to help Judaism, and sincerely attempts to “fix its problems”. He does this by creating new ways for Jews to feel spiritual, or by doing away with what he perceives to be “old fashioned” parts of our Religion. This is a dedicated person who is most definitely “bringing an offering", but if he isn't careful, his offering might be "outside the Temple Courtyard", outside the spirit of Torah. Although a person like this is only trying to do good, it is vitally important to always have the Torah, and the foundations of Judaism, as his guide.
In a famous legend, a seamstress worked many weeks at embroidering a beautiful cover for a Torah Scroll, only to discover on the day of its inauguration that the cover was 8 inches to short to cover the Scroll! Incredulously, she suggested cutting the Torah down to size, to better fit the cover! The truth however, is that the cover must be adapted to fit the Torah, not the other way around.
The metaphor is obvious. The Torah, our tradition and way of life, is not a passing fad. Nor is it a man-made invention that we are free to adapt and re-interpret to meet the ever changing winds of society. To think that the only way to make Torah and Judaism appealing is to water it down, by creating new rituals, and doing away with old ones, is disrespectful to everything we believe in! The true way to strengthen Judaism is by showing the beauty of a Shabbat table, the inspiration found in the Siddur, the logic and intellect on a page of Talmud, or the joy of Simchat Torah. Despite our best intentions, there are times when we need to let go and trust that G-d knows what he is doing. We need to let the Torah speak for itself.