Each week, our resident Hillel Rabbis (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Alex Kress, and Rabbi Aaron Lerner) will comment on the week's parsha.
We find ourselves deep in the discussions of the temple service and its sacrifices in this week's portion, and then all of a sudden, we are hit with a verse that points to a scenario we desire to be in. Chapter 7, Verse 12, the Torah teaches of the Thanksgiving offering: “for thanksgiving [for a miracle wrought for him, e.g., recovering from an illness] he shall offer it, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil, and [unleavened] cakes of soaked fine flour mixed with oil [(ten cakes of each of the four kinds)].” This shouts out with a prayer and a sincere desire that the whole world has now! We look forward to celebrating a Thanksgiving when a miracle will be brought for us, and we will not have anyone suffering from COVID-19. Then later on in Verse 15, we are taught that this Thanksgiving offering, which includes 40 loaves of bread, needs to be eaten in 1 day. The only way to accomplish that is to invite large groups of people to celebrate with you. The portion is again relating to something we can't wait to reinstate, social closeness.
Unfortunately, these celebrations described in the verses are not yet a reality. For now, the truth is that we will most likely have a Passover seder with a lot fewer guests than we expected. For some of us, it may be the first time we are making a Seder in our homes or without our extended families. How do we adjust to this new reality and keep up the hope that next Passover things will be different? I think the answer lies in the matzah we eat at the Seder. The matzah is called the bread of our affliction and the bread of our freedom. How can it be both? I think the answer lies in our perception that if we look at matzah for all of its negatives, then it's our bread of affliction. On the other hand, if we look at matzah for its positives and we look to share the matzah with others, then it's our bread of freedom. This year in isolation, we must look for positives. We must find creative ways to help others and remain connected. Hopefully, soon we will be able to have “Thanksgiving with 40 loaves “ celebrating the reuniting of the community very soon.
One of the benefits of shelter-in-place is that I’m actually reading the books in my library. I’ve made a Shabbat morning habit of sitting with a cup of coffee and reading the weekly teachings of Rabbi Shai Held. I have found these little moments of Torah so grounding and astonishingly relevant.
This week, in Parshat Tzav, we read the minutiae of the many types of offerings. These offerings are today’s equivalent of us going to synagogue to pray, gathering for festive meals, and learning together. In other words, religious life isn’t designed to be done alone and requires others to partake. However, in the Talmud, we find a teaching from Rava, that quotes this week’s portion: “One who occupies themself with the study of Torah needs neither burnt offering, nor meal-offering, nor sin offering, nor guilt offering. R. Yitzchak asked: What is the proof for such a statement? And replied: Scriptures saying ‘This Torah for a sin offering’ (Lev 6:18) and ‘This Torah for a guilt offering’ (Lev 7:1)” (B. Menachot 110a).
The ancient rabbis teach that in the future, all sacrifices will be abolished, except for the thanksgiving sacrifice. Perhaps then, substituting Torah for our in-person habits but retaining our daily moments of gratitude, offer us guidance during our indefinite orders to shelter-in-place. Torah can offer us a connection to our people, while gratitude can maintain our connection with God.