Thursday, March 24, 2016

Parashat Tzav

            Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Tzav, an explanation for the priests on proper sacrifice rituals. There are five basic types of sacrifices: a burnt offering, a meal offering, an offering for well-being, a sin offering, and a guilt offering. Last week’s parasha really explains what they are and when each is merited, while this week focuses on how the priests are to carry out the sacrifices. But the language remains ambiguous enough that some of our great rabbis of old still needed to explain what some of these sacrifices meant in their commentaries on this portion as well. For example, for the offerings of well-being, this portion seems to make distinctions of three types of sacrifices of “well-being”. The first, which has its own ritual for the priests, is an offering of thanksgiving and the rabbis explain that it is required to be brought to the priests by someone who has recovered from illness, returned from a long or dangerous journey, or otherwise experienced something particularly good following a period of uncertainty. The other two have the same ritual for the priests but are still somewhat distinct. There’s a votive offering, which the rabbis explain is made in fulfillment of a vow, the vow being made of freewill but the offering to fulfill it being obligatory. And there’s a freewill offering that is an entirely spontaneous act of pure devotion.
            We no longer deal in animal sacrifices or priestly rituals, but these distinctions in the sacrifices of well-being really spoke to me as I was preparing this parasha for this Shabbat. Imagine you make a complete recovery from a terrible illness, and you didn’t call your friends and family who had been worried about you. They’d of course be relieved when they heard you were well, but they might also be a little frustrated and/or confused that you didn’t tell them sooner. Imagine if it were OBLIGATORY that you notify people at your earliest possible convenience, that you celebrate your health, that you shout from the rooftops how grateful you are to be healthy again! It might be pretty annoying, actually, if we were forced to always express expected emotions all the time, but think of it as cultivating an attitude of gratitude, of creating a practice for yourself to actively show your thanks for small miracles every day. Imagine you are in a great mood one day, for no particular reason. You haven’t just gotten over an illness, or been on a journey, or even have a vacation coming up anytime soon. It’s just a nice day, the weather is good, and you woke up on the right side of the bed. And you say to yourself, “I should spread some cheer today.” You think you will be extra polite to strangers on the commute to work today, you’ll compliment a colleague, give your kid an extra couple dollars on their allowance this week, maybe even donate some tzedakah midweek just because you feel so fortunate on this lovely day. But then the traffic is bad, or your colleagues weren’t particularly impressive that day, or you simply forget about the extra dollars by the time you hand over the allowance. Again, it might be impractical to DEMAND you follow through on all those things, but think about how much better life would be for everyone if we set our minds to really complete our promises to ourselves to be more sharing, caring, and courteous. Now imagine, you’re just walking down the street, and you come upon a homeless person. You are suddenly filled with a great sense of gratitude for all you have and spontaneously give the homeless person a couple dollars or buy them lunch.

            In some ways, these are all still sacrifices. They require time, energy, intention, and possibly even money, depending on which manifestation you choose to show your gratitude for your own well-being. Like all sacrifices, though, they are for a greater good. They enrich your life, help you to appreciate what you have, spread your joy and wealth at least a little to those around you, and I believe that they do express love and thanksgiving for God, even if they are not offered directly to God the way the Temple sacrifices were. May we all endeavor to show our gratitude a little more openly, and share what we have with others. In this way, may we find ways to give modern day sacrifices that spread a little extra Divine joy over the world. 

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