Pancakes. Can you believe it? Pancakes! This is what Aharon and his sons are
told to offer up to Gd at the time of their ordination. (Lev. 6:12ff.) Worse
yet, they don't get to eat them. They must entirely burnt up on the altar.
In fact, all the priest's meal offerings are to be entirely burned on the
altar, and not eaten. If Gd just wanted some pancakes, why didn't Gd just go
Now, of course, Aharon and his gang do get to eat some pancakes...regular
meal offerings that the priests offer for others...it's a pretty good
deal...as only a token portion is offered on the altar, while the priests
get to eat the rest. But any meal offerings that the priests themselves
offer on their own behalf during their ordination are to be completely
offered and burnt upon the altar.
Funny thing. Here we have people offering up animals left and right, and all
Gd asks of the priests are some pancakes on the occasion of their
ordination? From Moshe, however, he asks for Moshe's portion of the
sacrificial ordination ram. (Is this the price for Gd bestowing this favor
on Moshe's brother?)
Then this parasha has all this yucky animal sacrifice stuff. Hard to
imagine, from our perspective, and even our Haftarah tells us that this
particular practice had been rethought by Jeremiah's time. Gd doesn't want
those kinds of sacrifices, Jeremiah tells us. (As an aside, this fits in
nicely with my slowly evolving understanding of the nature of Gd and
humanity-with both as teacher and student. The question becomes-did Gd
figure this out first, or Jeremiah?)
But all this is just preface for what really caught me eye this time around
reading parashat Tzav. Think about this: Aharon and his sons had to remain
in the Ohel Mo'ed and repeat these same rituals every day for SEVEN days.
What's wrong with this picture? Doesn't this mean that one of those days had
to be a Shabbat? Is the Torah telling us that ordination is a more important
thing than Shabbat? (I've known a few ordained people in my time who thought
Priests serve Gd. Even Gd rests on Shabbat. Should not the priests, too?
The ordination of priests is a special and unique thing. It still is today.
We don't ordain priests (though some Jews are preparing for a renewed need
for Temple priests) but Catholics, Anglicans and others do. We have rabbis
instead. In our own way, we put them through the same rigors as Aharon and
his sons had to go through, only these rigors are more scholastic in type.
We have raised the rabbinate high in our world. Maybe not as high as
Aharonic priests, but elevated nonetheless. They've undergone their
ordination ritual. How many of them have found it necessary to work on a
Shabbat? Did they ever think to question that? It's one of the facts of
rabbinical life that, as a leader, sometimes your Shabbat involves more work
than the rest of the week. Now, we can rationalize this by the special
nature of the role they play-just as did Aaron and his sons. But is this a
truly appropriate rationalization?
I have found myself, in a Jewish camp setting, torn between wanting to give
the Shabbat bride her due, and fighting against a schedule to meet the needs
of the young Jewish campers by working on Shabbat. I rationalized that, as I
was helping to shape young Jewish minds, it was appropriate work. But was
it? It is, assuredly, a struggle. It was for me, and, to this day, I still
wonder about my choices. Just as perhaps Aharon and sons (and even Moshe)
should have wondered why Gd made the ceremony for 7 whole days and nights.
Kind of odd that Aharon and his sons (or, for that matter, anyone else who
had heard Gd's specific charge about Shabbat) didn't stop to think about
that. Nope. "And Aaron and his sons did all the things that the Lord had
commanded through Moses." (Lev 8:36-JPS) Just like Noah. Just like Abraham
Maybe it was all a test from Gd-to see if everyone remembered what Gd had
commanded-to see if people were really paying attention-or simply following
Gd blindly. no matter Gd's whim.
If there is a lesson in parashat Tzav, it is to notice this incongruity-and
to think about it, what it means, what it implies.
I know I'm going to be thinking about it.
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