Parshat Tzav and Passover
Parshah Summary – P’shat (literal level)
The parshah opens with God instructing Moses to command Aaron and his sons regarding their duties and rights as kohanim (priests) who offer the korbanot (animal and meal offerings) in the Sanctuary. The fire on the altar must be kept constantly burning at all times. Upon the altar, the Olah (Ascending) offering is burned completely. Also burned are the veins of fat from the Shlamim (Peace), Hatat (Sin) and Asham (Guilt) offerings, and a “handful” separated from the Minkhah (Meal) offering. The kohanim eat the meat of the Sin and Guilt offerings, and the remainder of the Meal offering. The Peace offering is eaten by the one who brought it, except for specified portions given to the kohen. Aaron and his sons remain within the Sanctuary compound for seven days, during which Moses initiates them into the priesthood…
Torah of Awakening
צַ֤ו אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֣יו לֵאמֹ֔ר זֹ֥את תּוֹרַ֖ת הָעֹלָ֑ה הִ֣וא הָעֹלָ֡ה עַל֩ מוֹקְדָ֨הֿ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֤חַ כׇּל־הַלַּ֙יְלָה֙ עַד־הַבֹּ֔קֶר וְאֵ֥שׁ הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ תּ֥וּקַד בּֽוֹ׃
Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the torah of the Olah (Ascending) offering: The Olah offering shall remain upon the pyre upon the altar all night until morning, and the altar’s fire is kept burning upon it…
- Vayikra (Leviticus) 6:2 Parshat Tzav
Rabbi Barukh’s disciples came to him and asked, “In our morning prayers, Hashem is called בּוֹרֵא רְפוּאוֹת נוֹרָא תְהִלּוֹת אֲדוֹן הַנִּפְלָאוֹת Creator of remedies, Awesome in praise, Lord of wonders. But why does ‘remedies’ come before ‘praise and wonders?’” He answered, “Hashem does not want to be praised for supernatural miracles, but for the miracle of that which we regard as ‘natural’ – it is the ‘ordinary’ that is the true miracle. And so, by putting ‘remedies’ first, nature is given precedence over the supernatural, thus teaching the extraordinary sacredness of the ordinary.”
There are moments when our situation dictates our next move, and there is no ambiguity about what we must do. If we were standing in the road and a truck were heading toward us, for example, it is clear we should get out of the way. In such a moment, there is no leeway for weighing options, for considering which path to take. The path is clear, and the mind is wholly present in the task at hand. We might call this Active Presence – being totally awake and committed in one’s action. This is the Path of ש Shin (symbolized by fire), the quality of “watchfulness” or “attentiveness.”
There is also a situation we might call Passive Presence. An example would be an experience so satisfying that there is no part of you left out, such as a sunset or even drinking a glass of water when you are parched. In such moments, there is a sense of arrival. The present is not experienced as a stepping-stone to some other moment; rather, there is a merging with the moment. This is the Path of מ Mem (symbolized by water), the quality of “surrender” and dropping away of all sense of separateness.
Ordinarily, these moments tend to be few. The aim of Jewish meditation, however, is to reorient ourselves to become fully present in every moment, to connect deeply with Reality as it presents itself now, always now, in this moment. To do this, we must practice shifting our perspective from mind and thought to the awareness behind mind and thought; this is the essence of Jewish meditation. And just as both the impending truck in the road, as well as the satisfying experience automatically bring one into the fullness Presence, so we must learn to bring ourselves into Presence without any extraordinary situation, even and especially in ordinary and mundane moments.
צַ֤ו אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֣יו לֵאמֹ֔ר זֹ֥את תּוֹרַ֖ת הָעֹלָ֑ה – Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the torah of the Olah… Rather than the Torah’s usual formulation of daber, “speak,” here it says tzav, “command.” In saying “command” rather than “speak,” it implies a sense of urgency, calling one to attentiveness. To receive a “commandment” is different from receiving a “suggestion” or an “option” – the truck is heading for you, and you must act. However, the Torah then goes on to enumerate tedious details about the various ritual sacrifices. The subject matter is not even new; it is merely a continuation of last week’s parshah, which introduced the subject. Why is this special word tzav used in this context? But this is the whole point. Much of our lives are spent with ordinary, repetitive things – the daily grind of keeping things moving. The ritual sacrifices are a metaphor for how to frame the ordinary: by bringing our awareness fully into each moment, the “ordinary” is transformed into something sacred. The word for sacrifice, korban, actually doesn’t mean sacrifice at all; it means “drawing near.” The hint is that our “daily grind” can become a way of drawing near to the Divine, for everything is part of the Divine; the key is the awareness be bring to it…
הָעֹלָ֡ה עַל֩ מוֹקְדָ֨הֿ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֤חַ כׇּל־הַלַּ֙יְלָה֙ עַד־הַבֹּ֔קֶר – The Olah shall remain upon the pyre upon the altar all night until morning… “Morning” represents those unusual experiences that bring us to the sacred and the fullness of both Active and Passive Presence – the ש shin and the מ mem. “All night” means the ordinary and mundane, when we tend to fall asleep in the spiritual sense. To “keep the fire burning all night” means to transform the ordinary into a korban – into a sacred offering through the power of awareness. This is the Path of ק Koof, “sanctification of the ordinary.”
This lesson is a powerful reminder we as move into the preparation time for Pesakh (Passover). Preparing for Pesakh has a very mundane, detail-oriented aspect to it, involving going through the fridge and cabinets to find all the hameitz (foods made with wheat, oats, barley or spelt, except of course matzah) to either eliminate it or sell it. Often, this will reveal hidden dirtiness and inspire a deep cleaning of the house. The hameitz is a symbol for ego and separation from the present. The matzah, in its flatness and simplicity, represents full intimacy with the present and freedom from ego. So what is the lesson? The ego craves something special. It wants to be impressed, and to impress. But preparing for Pesakh is an opportunity to embrace the mundane, to discover the ק koof – the sacred – in the cleaning of the kitchen. In surrendering to these mundane tasks and doing them not as drudgery, but as “commandment,” as mitzvah, we open ourselves to receive the true and liberating power of Pesakh. When you eat the matzah this Pesakh, may we taste the joy, sweetness and purity of real liberation, and may our liberation bring this world a step closer to a global awakening and healing…
Read past teachings on Parshat Tzav HERE.
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4/1/2023 08:08:07 am
Thank you Rabbi
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