Tzav - weekly Torah portion
As an engineer by profession, the thought of lack of advance planning of things that may fail or happen is quite a concern. At times failure to do so may result in some kind of an inconvenience, higher costs, a project that continues with no end in sight, or God forbid fatal accidents. In many cases taking the time to preplan and considering possible failures can prevent such issues by providing practical and effective solutions.
In this week’s portion of the Torah we learn that so that it will be possible to provide burnt sacrifices Moses is commanded that “Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out.” Once the altar has fire on it will continue forever with no end. This demand appears twice, in consecutive sentences, but it seems that it was not taken into account that such a fire can also cease. As a result no instructions are provided on how this should be restarted as it is supposed to continue for eternity. However, one of reason would realize that it would be possible for a fire to go out, may be because of an error by a priest who fell asleep and did not timely feed the fire, or may be a gust of wind or a rain extinguished the fire, or maybe something has happened to the altar causing the flame to die off.
In the Bavli, Minchot, chapter 13, there is a reference to what we read later on in this week’s portion of the Torah where it is said “This is the law of the burnt offering, the grain offering and the sin offering and the guilt offering and the ordination offering and the sacrifice of peace offerings”, and in Hebrew:
“זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה, לָעֹלָה לַמִּנְחָה, וְלַחַטָּאת, וְלָאָשָׁם; וְלַמִּלּוּאִים--וּלְזֶבַח, הַשְּׁלָמִים.”
Raba wonders about the use of the Lamed “ל” before each type of sacrifice and suggest that it actually means “no” or “לא” and explains that those who deal with the Torah do not need these sacrifices, no grain offering, no sin offering, no guilt offering, no ordination offering and no peace offering. In fact he suggests the solution for the case where the fire is there no more and that is the dealing with the Torah, the words that were given to us. In the Bavli Rabbi Isaac continues and explain that when we read “this is the law of the grain” and “this is the law for the burnt offering” it actually means that when dealing with law of the grain than it is like sacrificing the grain and when we deal with the law of the burnt offering it is as if we have sacrificed the burnt offering.
Of course the question we should pose to ourselves is that is it enough to simply reduce the dealing to a process of studying and the studying simply replaces it? What does it mean to deal with something? Is merely writing heaps of protocols of debates on an issue sufficient? Does this really satisfy the requirement of dealing with something? It seems that this is too easy of a conclusion to go with, the dealing with the teachings of the Torah should not be that easy and there is much more to it. Yes of course it requires studying, understanding, debating, trying time and time again to bring updated structure to the challenges we are confronted with by the teachings of the Torah. It is not only the Torah which we should be looking at but also generation upon generation of scholarly work, learning the different positions, arguments and possibilities, very much like we would do when we approach a complex engineering task that needs a solution. Just take for example the building of bridges that has been going on for at least two millennia in very much the same way until the invention of the suspension bridge. It used knowledge collected for a long period of time but with a spark of ingenuity changed the way many bridges have been built since the first suspension bridges built since early in the 19th century.
Building bridges between the past and the future is not an easy task. In the case of the sacrifice with see how Raba and Rabbi Isaac found such a way to bridge a gap between the past and the future. This is not always the case though. In Israel, Rabbi David Yoseff from Jerusalem, failed exactly in constructing such a bridge comparing Reform Jews to the evil som of the four sons of the Haggada. He may have not carefully enough read the text where that wicked brother asks “What is this whorship to you? To you and not to him. And since he excluded himself from the collective, he denied a principle (of the Jewish faith)”. But reading carefully what Rabbi Yossef says is exactly what that evil sons says and therefore he excludes himself rather than us. For example he claimed that Reform Jews eat leavened bread during Passover. He certainly never asked me, a proud Reform Jew, if that was true, nor the many other Reform Jews I know who do keep to Passover Kosher restrictions and like me have never eaten leavened bread during Passover. He feels comfortable of making false accusations under the hospice of generous funding from the State of Israel. A funding that allows him and others like him to destroy bridges, not only between the past and the future but also between people in the present.
Now with Passover only days away I wish him, as I wish us all, to try and become more of the wise son, who asks a very similar question but instead of using the word “לכם” he uses the word “אתכם”. I would like to suggest that the wise son uses pronounces it as “itchem” – with you, so that all of us are included, Haredi, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular Jews, and in any form that may be in between. To wish us all a fruitful and meaningful debates and discussions, that allow us not only to speak our mind freely but also all heartedly listen to what the other has to say, where we can keep what is unique to us, that has beauty, that has a past, a present and a future. And that also has a bridge.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for a Happy Passover,
Reuven Marko, 7 April 2017, 12 Nisan, 5777