Yom Rivii, 18 Elul 5779
Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Parashat Tzav 2013

Parashat Tzav
Rabbi Janet Burden

22 March 2013

Like most of my Liberal colleagues and congregants, I never look forward to this part of the reading cycle, when we make our way through the book of Leviticus, the Torat Cohanim.· What do I care about all of the rules that the Levites were supposed to follow?· The sacrificial cult in the Jerusalem Temple largely leaves me cold as a means of accessing or addressing God.· This is not because I am a vegetarian:· frankly, as most of the sacrifices, animal and grain, were used as food for the Levites, I have never had a problem with that side of it.· Using animals in that way seems, if anything, less problematic than the industrial meat production of today.· (At least the priests could be sure of what animals they were actually eating!)

My main problem has always been with the idea of hereditary privilege and the social hierarchies that go with it.· Yet when I was having a look at Parashat Tsav, I had to think again about what the nature of this so-called ‘privilege’ was.· These lines certainly don’t make the work sound particularly glamorous:

The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. (Leviticus 6:3-4)

Why did this task have to be done by someone from the priestly caste?· We might have expected that clearing up ashes would be ‘dogsbody’ work. · It doesn’t require any special skills.· You have to get dirty to do it, and you have to lower yourself to sweep and clear.· But there is one thing that clearing up the ashes DOES require:· emunah, faithfulness – or in this context, reliability.· This is a chore that MUST be done, whether one feels like it or not.· Otherwise, when it comes time to light the next fire, it will not burn as it should.· Viewed in this way, performing this task can be viewed as keeping a sacred trust.· What could be more fitting for the Levitical priests?

And as I was thinking about this, I remembered a commentary I had cut and pasted from one of the American Union of Reform Judaism emails from many years ago.· I kept it as an example of faithfulness in hard times.

I once asked a person, "Where do you find the strength to carry on?" And the person responded, "Life is a heavy burden to carry . . . but I do find strength in the ashes." "In the ashes?" I asked. "Yes," said the person. "You see, each of us is on a journey. A difficult journey. And during this journey, we may feel that we are alone. But in the process of our journey, we must build a fire – a fire for light, for warmth, and for food. When our fingers scrape the ground, hoping to find the coals of another's fire, what we often find are ashes. And in those ashes, which will not give us light or warmth, there may be sadness, but there is also testimony. Because these ashes tell us that somebody else has been in the night. Somebody else has bent to build a fire. And somebody else has carried on. And sometimes that can be enough." (Adapted from Noah ben Shea, Jacob the Baker [New York: Ballantine Books, 1989], pp. 108-113)

If you are ‘carrying on’ in a difficult situation right now – remember, your faithfulness to that task may be a blessing for others. · Keep the home fires burning.