Parashat Tzav seems easy to dismiss as irrelevant for those of us whose practice of Judaism is liberal in theology. What, after all, does all this sacrificial nonsense have to do with life in today's world?
Perhaps a better question to ask would be - how can we make it relevant? Though animal sacrifice is no longer prevalent, our society remains full of rituals and practices that, upon examination, have many of the same intents as did the rituals practiced by our ancestors. We just clothe them in different trappings.
If we spend some time examining the rituals that take place around us, we might be surprised to find value and relevance in the practices of our ancestors. In the process of attempting to analyze their intents for ourselves, we may discover intents that speak to us as clearly today as they did then.
What can we learn, for example, from the fact that even the High Priest had to make a daily sacrifice? Perhaps that none of us can be truly without sin, so it is always good to ask forgiveness for our sins. If the High Priest can do it every day, why not us?
The Torah tells us that anyone offering a sacrifice of well-being must bring the sacrifice themselves, and offer it up upon the altar themselves. In this situation, no priestly intermediary. A reminder, perhaps, that our sacrifices must be sacrifices of ourselves, sacrifices of action and deed, not just thought or money. Remember this the next time you have a choice of whether to just write a check to the soup kitchen or serve a meal to the homeless with your own hands.
Why does the priest change into special clothes for the task of removing the ashes, and then change clothes again for removing the ashes from the tabernacle? Do clothes matter? Can they remind us or put us in the proper mood for certain tasks? I remember this simple fact from earlier in my career: that even after having worked and slaved away all night on the technical aspects of some show, that if I took the time to freshen up and change into nice clothes before I went to the rehearsal next morning, it not only made me feel better, but it also affected the attitudes of the actors and others at the rehearsal. Then again, I am reminded of how many good suits and sport coats I ruined because I had to perform some dirty task. So maybe there is a right time and place for the right kind of clothes!
Turning back to sacrifices and rituals, our society has corrupted many rituals into sacrifices for the sake of self-worship rather than a sacrifice for G"d. (Think about that the next time you stuff yourself at Thanksgiving.)
What about today's sacrifices? What can we offer to G"d? Try these:
Skip that Friday night and Saturday afternoon in front of the TV, and read some Torah instead.
Go volunteer your time and energy instead of being a couch potato.
Give more money to a charity than you think you can afford.
Bake challah yourself for Shabbat instead of a quick trip to the bakery.
Spend a day with your children at religious education instead of dropping them off and going to the mall.
Join the Peace Corps. (Yep, they're still around.)
Serve food at a shelter for the homeless.
Really give up eating chametz for Pesach.
Really fast on Yom Kippur.
Don't go to the mall on Saturday.
etc. etc. etc.
"That's hardly a sacrifice," I hear some of you cry. I would caution each of us not to judge the relative merits of each of these actions as a "sacrifice"; only the doers of these actions can truly know if their intent meets their own criteria as a sacrifice. Who's to know whether or not these sacrifices may be as serious for someone as the rituals taught to Aharon?
One step at a time. G"d recognizes sacrifices large and small. Of that I am certain, for it is the intent that matters most of them time. (But not always-remember my favorite crispy critters Nadav and Avihu.)
And a final note. There is surely one admonition in Tzav that is as relevant today as it was then - the injunction not to eat the fat with the meat. That's one we can all work on -although it's hard for me these days on this Atkins' diet I've been on! For once, a diet that wants you to eat lots of meat and even the fats with it.
Shabbat Shalom to you and yours,
©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
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