In the crush of preparations for Pesach this year, I humbly offer this rerun for Parashat Tzav from 1999.
And, at the end, a brief Pesach reflection
A zissen Pesach to you all.
[Note from 5761: I realize this Shabbat is Shabbat Hagadol, so the Haftarah is from Malachi, and not Jeremiah, but I think Jeremiah's words can help lead us to a means to grapple with the text of Tzav.]
Last year at this time (5758,) I accepted the challenge of Tzav, with its talk of sacrificial rites, and attempted to find within in lessons for today. I know that this is possible, and I commend to you reading the text of Tzav with an eye towards gleaning meanings that withstand the light of our contemporary society and the liberal Jewish perspective.
But my mind and soul are not so brave this year, not quite so ready to redeem the text of Tzav in a modern context. And so I'll choose a safer course by focusing instead on the Haftarah, this week from Jeremiah.
Jeremiah, of course, starts out by giving us a "hook" on which we can create contemporary readings of Tzav. For he has Gd saying that when we were brought out of Egypt, is was not about sacrifices that Gd was commanding us, but about following Gd's commandments, walking in Gd's ways, and keeping our covenant with Gd. (Jeremiah 7:21-23.) Armed with that little piece of prophetic side-stepping, maybe you can feel empowered to view the text of Tzav in a different light. Good luck. I'm not going to try this time.
In great prophetical rhetoric, Jeremiah outlines for the people exactly where they have gone astray, and warns them of the consequences to follow. (He uses an image that, in the context of my current educational setting, is extremely powerful. Resurrection is a pretty hot topic among Divinity school students and faculty. Jeremiah's listeners must also have had some sorts of expectations or understandings along those lines, and Jeremiah apparently turns that to his advantage in 8:1-3. The bones of those who have so ineptly served Gd will be exposed and raised up-but not to be resurrected or even reburied, but to be blown into dust in an irrecoverable end. Ouch! That's one powerful message and prediction. Truly the lives of those whose bones are so utterly destroyed will have been in vain.)
But we need not despair completely. And this is the part of the Haftarah I want to focus on. It's Jeremiah's solution to keeping on Gd's good side. It's simple, direct, and needs little explanation. From the words of 9:22-23, which concludes the Haftarah, we can learn well how to live to avoid such a fate as Jeremiah describes:
The wise should not boast of his own wisdom The strong should not boast of his own strength The rich shall not boast of his own riches
Rather in this one should always be caused to boast: In their devotion to knowing Me. For, I, Ad-nai, act with kindness, justice and righteousness In these I delight -declares Gd.
(the translation is my own.)
It's a simple formula, reminding us that all that we are, all that we have, all that we do are nothing if we do not do them for the sake of Gd. Humility and devotion. Qualities often found far too lacking these days. All that we have, all that we are, we can lose in an instant. But our devotion to Gd is something that cannot be taken away except from ourselves by ourselves. I would add a caveat to Jeremiah's thoughts - that we not boast even of our devotion to Gd, lest we lose our humility both in the sight of Gd, our fellow humans, and ourselves. That, for we prideful humans, is a sacrifice of sorts.
And also, we should make the purpose of our devotion to knowing Gd to strive to be like Gd and act with kindness, justice and righteousness, and delight in them. For this is what it is to be in Gd's image and to keep our covenant with Gd.
Whether you find your answers this week in Tzav or Jeremiah, may they bring you closer to Gd. ------------------------------------------------------------------
Avadim hayinu - we were slaves. We have, each of us, at one time or another in our lives been a slave to someone or something. Slaves to our jobs, slaves to fashion, slaves to the telephone, slaves to unhealthy relationships. I am reminded at this Pesach to be thankful for the freedoms I have attained from various slaveries in my own life. It is no stretch for me to truly imagine as if I myself had been brought out of Mitzrayim - and it should be no less a stretch for any of you. We retell the story each year not only to remind us of our history and heritage, but to remind us that we, too, can be freed from the shackles of those things that enslave us in our own times and our own lives.
Ata b'nei chorin.
Let us all thank Gd for that, each and every day, and not just at Pesach time.
To you and yours
Chag kasher v'sameach,
©1998, 1999 by Adrian A. Durlester
©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
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