What is the Torah? What purpose does it have? How do we use it? What is our relationship to it?
These are questions often asked, and difficult to answer. And these understandings are made even more difficult when we encounter passages like parashat Tzav, the speak of rituals and practices we have trouble relating to and understanding. We ask ourselves,"zot Torahteinu?" - "This is our Torah?" What is it to me?
I sometimes think the reason we trouble understanding these things is because we have generated an artificial distance between us and the Torah. We think of Torah with a feeling of awe and reverence (which it surely deserves) akin to that which some of us seem to reserve for royalty, famous stars and personalities, sports figures, etc. And that kind of awe and reverence is one that creates distance between, that creates levels, place others at levels above our own. Thus we don't feel empowered to truly relate to them.
Yet kings and queens, baseball players, rich businessmen, heroes, yes, even our great patriarchs and matriarchs, and even Moshe rabbeinu himself - they all have to "put their pants on one leg at a time" so to speak. They have to use the restroom. They pass gas, and sometimes have bad breath or body odor. They have successes, failures, disappointments, moments of wonder. Their shoelaces come untied. They smile, they frown.
Life is a great leveler. We enjoy scenes in the movies that cut royalty or lofty people down to size. We enjoy even more people in the movies that we can truly relate to as being like ourselves-that are "ordinary people" like ourselves. (Yet how odd that we don't see the actors who portray these "ordinary people" as so ordinary.)
It's certainly easier to relate to someone human being to human being. This kind of understanding enables the sort of "I-Thou" relationship between humans (and between human beings and Gd) that Buber speaks of.
I think that we need to find a way to have an I-Thou relationship with the Torah as well. That's difficult to do if it's shrouded in mystery, and thought of as somehow above our level. It's not.
Our Torah is smart enough to "level itself." One way it does so is with the famous "lo bashamayim hi - the Torah is not in heaven" passage that is to be found near the end of Deuteronomy. Perhaps yet another key to understanding this is might be found in parashat Tzav, at the very beginning of the parasha. Here we have a parasha that is confusing and alien to our modern sensibilities, speaking as it does of sacrifices and rituals. Many of us avoid it as simply irrelevant. I've addressed that question of relevancy before, and won't go into that now.
How does our parasha begin?
Vayedabeir Adnai el-Moshe leimor: Tzav et-Aharon v'et-banaiv leimor: Zot torat ha-olah (Lev 6:1-2a]
Gd spoke to Moses, saying: Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the TORAH of the burnt offering.
See? It's just a word. Torah. It can mean instruction, law, teaching, and more. We can relate to it on our own level. After all, if we can speak of a torah for the burnt offering, we realize the "the Torah" is just another "torah." Perhaps a Torah g'dolah, a great teaching. But still just another teaching.
There is no doubt that our holy Torah is worthy of reverence. It's teaching have sustained us for thousands of years. I am happy to show my respect for the Torah in ritual fashion. I want to kiss the Torah as it passes during hakafah. I do treat my various chumashim with due respect for what they contain. I make sure to treat a sefer Torah carefully, not allowing the oils of my skin to damage the scroll.
Yet my chumashim look well-used, as do most of the sefer Torahs I encounter. That is so because, in order to have a relationship with the Torah. To encounter Torah, one must treat it on a more personal and physical level. You can't have a relationship with the Torah if it simply sits, wrapped in beautiful coverings, in a synagogue's aron hakodesh, holy ark.
If Gd thinks it important enough to command Moshe to give a torat ha-olah, then surely we need "torahs" for other aspects of life. Our holy Torah is a torat toratot, a teaching of teachings. These teachings, while they should be revered, need to be interacted with, need to be visceral, need to be encountered. We can't do that if we make "the Torah" into a sacred mystery.
I once met a sincere, practicing Reform Jew who could not countenance the idea of hakafot as a part of worship, considering it avodah zara, considered it like worshipping an idol or icon, by elevating the Torah to that status. While I didn't share those feelings then, and still don't, I do recognize the caution that is implicit in such a view, and one that we fail to take into account at our own peril.
Step one to treating the Torah in an I-Thou manner? Stop thinking of the Torah as it. Lo bashamayim hi. SHE is not in heaven. Treat Torah as a living thing, not an "it."
Revere the Torah by taking her by the hand, by shaking her, turning her upside down and rightside up, by examining and encountering all of her words. Revere her by dancing with her. Revere her by taking her hand. Revere Torah by realizing that she is, in some ways, just a book, and reading her. Revere her by considering her words, and not just choosing to ignore most of them because you claim them to be irrelevant to your life in these modern times. Love her as you love yourself.
© 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Previous Musings on the same parasha
Tzav 5760-Of IHOPs,
Ordination and Shabbat
Tzav 5761/5759-Jeremiah's Solution
Tzav 5762-Irrelevant Relevancies
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