This week’s portion, “Tzav”, begins in Leviticus 6 and details types of sacrifices that were to be brought to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The portion describes rituals associated with the alter and discusses briefly, the charge that the priests should sweep away the ashes from the offerings that had been burned, yet the fire on the alter must remain as a”perpetual fire”. That fire keeps burning and we sweep away that which has been burned. On reading these chapters, we can be confounded as to what possible meaning could have for us.
An interesting insight is given in the Art Scroll Torah, a publication which represents Orthodox Judaism. A commentary on the beginning of “Tzav” cites a Midrash that notes that when a person repents, it is as if he went to Jerusalem and offered all the sacrifices. “Every Jew should be a human temple. If he is holy, his personal temple is holy, if he sins, he contaminates it. When someone repents, therefore, it is as if he rebuilds himself and recreates a temple within himself”. Interesting that the Midrash sees each of us as symbolic of the temple in Jerusalem and, in order to keep the “fire” within us burning, we may need to sweep away the ashes. Perhpas, the ashes symbolise, as has been suggested, all the stuff that keeps that fire of devolotion and creativity and faith from burning. If the ash is allowed to build up, and is not swept away, then that fire is destroyed. Perhaps those ashes represent all those issues in our life that stand int he way of faith: faith in our self, our life, in the sacred. Thus, it becomes necessary to regularly cleanse our souls of that which inhibits its’ true self.
And, look at this. “Tzav” is the Torah portion right before Passover! And what are we commanded to do prior to the Seder? We are asked to cleanse our homes from “hametz”, which is symbolic of that which makes our homes not ready for Passover. Likewise our life! Passover reminds us to cleanse our souls from the ashes, from the “chametz” that build up over time and which strangle our our creativity, our joy, our souls, our life. If we are, as the Midrash suggests, symbolic temples; then we need to tend to that fire, to cleanse it from the clutter and ash of habits, acts and beliefs that threaten to put the fire of our soul out.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.