Archive for the '3.02 Tzav' Category

Woven into the Fabric: Tzav and the Jewish Calendar

I look back on almost 10 years of writing this blog and I realize that have basically ignored Tzav, this week’s Torah portion, every year. It is probably because it gets lost in the Purim shuffle. One thing that caught my eye this year reading Tzav was the a description of the priestly garments. There we read:

And the Lord spoke unto Moshe, saying: ‘Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments, and the anointing oil, and the bullock of the sin-offering, and the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and you should assemble all the congregation at the door of the tent of meeting.’ ( Leviticus 8:1-3)

On this Rashi comments that it was seven days before the erection of the Mishkan which itself happened on the first of Nissan. That would put it at the 23rd of Adar in the period between Purim and Passover. What is the significance of this happening during this period of time?

It seems that we wear costumes on Purim to imitate Esther. She got her position of power by masking her identity. Ultimately she revealed her hidden identity and saved herself and her people. A month after Purim is Passover. It is interesting to note the Midrash as to why we were worthy of being redeemed from Egypt. There we read:

Another interpretation: “And there they became a nation” – this teaches that the Israelites were distinct there, in that their clothing, food, and language was different from the Egyptians’. They were identified and known as a separate nation, apart from the Egyptians. (Minor Pesikta, Devarim (Ki Tavo) 41a )

Where in the Megilah Esther saved her people by hiding and then revealed her identity, in Egypt we were redeemed specifically because we kept our public identity including our clothes. Our redemption starts with Esther’s revelation of unmasked self, goes to redemption of our ancestors who were advertising their identity with their clothing in Egypt, and then 50 days later on Shavuot we commemorate God as it were taking off God’s mask and reveal God’s self to us at Sinai.

Amidst this cycle we have the priests getting dressed. Like Esther they get their position of power by masking their personal identity. In many ways their garments made them who they were to the people. Like the Israelites in Egypt the priests in their garments were an iconic representation of Jewish identity. It is also through the cult of the Temple that the people would experience the unmasked presence of God as we did on Shavuot.

It turns out the Tzav is not lost behind Purim, it is just woven into the fabric of this longer cycle involving clothing, redemption ,and revelation.



Simpler Times

Tzav, this week’s Torah portion,  is full of more sacrificial laws. As I discussed last week, Leviticus seems too removed from our modern realities to seem relavent.  This Shabbat is also Parshat Zachor, in which we recall what Amalek did to us as we were leaving Egypt. We read this every year in preparation for Purim. Haman is assumed to be a descent of Amalek. Thinking about Purim makes me always think about how I chose to educate my children to the history of antisemitism. Do I really need to teach them about all of this? The destruction of the Temples and all of the existential crisis throughout our history. They are just children.

While very few of us truly yearn for the return of sacrifices in a Third Temple, it is hard not to covet what seemed to be simpler times as described in our Torah portion.  It seems that things were so much easier at that time as compared to the layers of memory, pain, and suffering we have accumulated over history. While I realize that our lives are much better now, it seems that things have just become so complicated.

This week I have been reflecting on the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear meltdown in Japan. Nuclear energy came to Japan in the most destructive force to date in the form of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While this technology is incredibly destructive, it is also clear that given our current energy needs we need to realize the benefits of nuclear generators. But, as we have seen this week, there is a real risk. While we know that we cannot go back in time, again it is understandable that we might yearn for simpler times. What will the Japanese tell their children?

What a Mitzvah?

Last week’s Torah portion starts off saying, ” God spoke to Moses, saying, ” Tzav – Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘ This is the Torat  Ha Olah- Law of elevation…'” (Leviticus  6:1-2) It would seem obvious in the context of the Torah that all the laws are commanded. There seems to be part of the recipe of a commandment is authority. But it also seems that authority seems to be part of Law. It makes me pause to ask a fundamental question,what is a Mitzvah- commandment?

At some level a Mitvah indicates a certain nature of relationship, where Torah speaks of a certain institution. Tzav– speaks of the relationship between Moses and Aaron, where the Torah seems to exist is an absolute form beyond the known realm. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to reconnect with  Jane Shapiro. She asked a group of us at the Foundation for Jewish Camps Leader’s Assembly a great question. ” What is your signature Mitzvah?” Everyone answered differently, but Jane argued that at the core of all of our answers was the concept of connection. People did not claim some removed nature of the Torah, but some dynamic connection with others.

In a couple of hours we will be sitting at our Seder. We find meaning for ourselves in the retelling of the exodus, and it is for us and not for the wicked child. In response to the Wicked child we will say, ” Li V’ Lo Lo“. In essence we are cutting him off. But, this also points out that at it core Jane is right. We are to make connections, personal connections. In many ways our task on this planet is to transform the institution of law into a movement of relationship. In these terms we can come to an understanding that the a mitzvah is the Torah in motion and emotion. It is the point of contact where the Torah is not in heaven, but instead manifest in all of our connections in this world. If we do our job there need not be any wicked children.

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