Questioning faith in the parsha
Carriers of guilt
It would indeed be troubling if the message here were that it is necessary to incur or bear guilt in order to be “good”.
That is not the rationale for recognition and expiation of guilt.
From an ontological perspective and looking beyond the legislative or regulatory aspect of Leviticus, I see a concern that recurs again and again in the Torah: everything, whether the wind in the trees, joy in procreation, victory over one’s foes, or even any form of wrongdoing – regarded essentially as that which is harmful to the community – everything must serve to bring us closer to the divine presence.
We are carriers of guilt just as we are carriers of ladders.
Guilt here becomes another vehicle, yet another way of drawing near to God or, perhaps the same thing in other words, forming part of the higher, collective self of the community.
It’s interesting to compare the Jewish sense of guilt with the Catholic sense of sin. For Catholics, all people are considered to be in a state of sin since the Fall but can individually be redeemed through JC. All Jews carry the burden of an imperfect world and strive together to heal it. Everything is grist to that mill.
I am put in mind of the impossible transcendence at the heart of Kafka’s writings and the last words of The Trial, when Joseph K. is stabbed to death like a dog: “It was”, we are told, “as if the shame of it must outlive him”.
The shame – “die Scham” – the inward shame, the mirror of guilt for a nameless crime, a crime that cannot be named, that shame must continue outside the confines of his own life, so long as it cannot be expiated.
In parsha Vayikra, the need for atonement is then as important a part of the message as the need to observe rules. Both are means of binding the community together. He who does not realize his guilt as defined is cut of from the community as defined…
It surely follows that if we do not recognize or for some reason reject the rules set out in Leviticus, the community has to be redefined. The question is how? By the sharing of questions?