Tzav/ Pesach: Dedicated to Hope

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Tzav and Pesach

Well, earlier this week it was snowing, so the words of the old song
went through my head. . . “I’m dreaming of a white Pesach!”

No, actually, I’m not, so it’s good that it’s nicer today, and I can
imagine that it’s going to be springtime in New England very soon. It
is, of course, no coincidence that Pesach comes in the springtime,
the season of new growth and new life. The central message of Pesach
is one of hope for the future, not remembrance of historical
suffering; we recall the slavery in Egypt as prelude to celebrating
the story of redemption, which is itself but a prelude to the story
yet to be told about an even greater miracle of redemption. To me,
fancy-shmancy religious words like “redemption” or “salvation”
express a simple proposition: no matter how bad things are, there is
always the possibility of getting “unstuck” and moving towards good
things like reconciliation, justice, mercy, and healing.

This might be true on an individual, communal, or national level, but
the idea is the same: the Jews were not stuck forever in slavery,
because there is a spiritual force which gets people unstuck from
their circumstances when they open their hearts and minds to courage
and hope, and that spiritual force, which we call God, is always
present to us. Pesach- and indeed all references to the Exodus in
Jewish liturgy and practice- orients us to be constantly hopeful,
constantly aware of greater possibilities for ourselves and our
world.

Now back to our regularly scheduled parsha, Tzav, where I see a
little hint of the Pesach message in the midst of many details about
the dedication of the priests for service in the Mishkan (portable
sanctuary.) Moshe is told to gather Aharon and his sons and make
offerings for a ritual of dedication of the priests, and this ritual
includes something that’s often overlooked:

” The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:’Take Aaron along with his sons,
and the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the
two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble the whole
community at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. ‘ ” (Vayikra/
Leviticus 8:1-3)

That’s right, the inauguration of the priests includes “unleavened
bread”- matzah! I have not done much research on this in the
commentaries, but it’s a fascinating image to me: at the moment when
the Israelites are celebrating the completion of the Mishkan, which
allows them to worship their God totally free from the conditions of
slavery, the ritual includes matzah, a symbol of the liberation.
Perhaps Aharon and his sons hold matzah in their hands (cf. verse 26)
as part of the dedication ceremony so that they as leaders will never
forget the Exodus story, and what it teaches about the possibilities
of history.

Alternatively, we can recall this little basket of Mishkan matzah at
our own seders, which deepens our understanding of the matzah as not
just “bread of affliction,” but also as “bread of liberation.” When
we hold up the matzah at our seders, we are like Moshe in the
Mishkan, bringing priests into the service of God and the people,
priests who don’t make agricultural offerings but who are no less
charged with bringing the Divine Presence into our homes and
communities. The Mishkan means that the Israelites were truly free
from Pharoah; our seders are a like a “Mishkan me’at,” a little
Sanctuary, where we are liberated from despair, fatalism, and
cynicism.

Wishing you all a joyous and healthy Pesach,

RNJL

PS- here are some great links:

A summary of the parsha, as well as lots of Pesach info:
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Weekly_Torah_Commentary/tzav_ind
ex.htm

The full text of the parsha, and a great commentary on the plagues,
is here:

http://www.jtsa.edu/community/parashah/index.shtml

This Shabbat is “Shabbat HaGadol,” the “Great Sabbath,” named for its
special haftarah, which is explained here:

http://www.kolel.org/pages/parasha/torah.shtml

Finally, don’t forget Rabbi Lerner’s great feast of Pesach downloads,
for wonderful seder ideas and inspiration:

http://www.jewishfreeware.org/downloads/folder.2006-01-07.0640323187/

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