Balancing Our Emotions
Our Sedra opens with Moshe informing his brother Aaron and the other Kohanim of their imminent duties in the newly established Mishkan. It was this holy temple that would preserve their sanctity in the desert, and help to forge the ever growing relationship between God and his people. The Sedra then continues with instructions about how the fire on the altar must be kept burning, and we are given more specific details about the various offerings proffered in the Temple.
I would like to focus on the opening words of the Sedra. In relation to the Elevation Offering (which was brought by someone who had sinned or had sinful thoughts) the Torah says “Command Aaron and his sons, saying…” This word ‘tzav’ or ‘command’ is unusual for the Torah to use. In many other instances Moshe is told to ‘speak to’ or ‘say’ but why would, in this case, the Torah need to purposely command the Kohanim?
The Kohanim were sustained by receiving tithes or portions from the rest of the Jewish People, but in the case of the Elevation Offering, they would not be given a portion – rather the meat would be completely consumed on the fire of the altar. Rashi explains that the use of the word ‘command’ was to emphasise to the Kohanim to pay particular attention to the elevation offering, because it was here that they would make a financial loss. Therefore, it needed extra prominence so they would not be negligent in their duties.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski offers an interesting insight into this description. He explains that the meat from all the offerings was so abundant that the Kohanim would never go hungry, so in no logical way would they be worried about not having enough. Furthermore, the command was given to Aaron, who possessed a level of spiritual observance and commitment almost unattainable by any man other than Moshe. Consequently, why would the Torah need to stress this command to him since he is the least likely to fall at such a low hurdle?
Therefore, the Torah is teaching us something about human emotions. On a simple and logical level, there would be more than enough meat going around that the Kohanim would not be in the slightest bit bothered about not taking a portion from one offering. However, facing the emotional test was something much harder. Rabbi Twerski tells us that human drive can be so powerful that it defies rational thought. Every person is susceptible to making emotonally driven and rash choices, even Aaron; all the more so, us in our own lives.
The Torah wants to highlight an important message about our own character. We can all make hot headed decisions, we can all decide in the moment to do something irrational or simply not well thought out. We must learn to do our best to not judge a situation in the ‘moment’, but to learn to use our emotions and our logic to decide what is best, at every turn and down every path.
Tzav & Purim
Purim brings with it excitement for young and old alike. It is the one day a year we ‘let our hair down,’ and foster jovial behaviour inside our sanctuary and encourage noise and entertainment throughout our building. But beyond the frivolity there is hidden depth to this important festival.
The story of Purim took place in the years following the destruction of the First Temple when the Jewish People were exiled from Israel. Their lives were not easy as they tried to maintain their practices and keep the Torah. They suffered greatly at the hands of their new rulers, and became to wonder if God had deserted them.
As we know, the Megillah does not mention God, nor is He alluded to in the simple understanding of the text. Much like the people at the time of the Megillah, we, reading it, need to search for Him, find Him when He is hidden from us, and believe that He is always there, turning the wheels and watching over our people, and the world.
The miracles of Purim occurred because of the eventual repentance of the Jewish People, but it was also in the merit of Mordechai and Esther. There is much to learn about these two heroes, who put their faith in God before their own needs. Esther was on orphan, and just as the Jewish People felt like orphans after the destruction of the Temple, the Purim story occurs through her to remind us that God is always with us, even if when we feel alone. Through Esther’s merit and in her status as an orphan we clearly see God’s hand in the events that unfolded. Esther’s faith was so strong that she was willing to put herself in harm’s way to save the lives of her people. She stood up for truth and ultimately played a major role in our salvation. Like Esther, Mordechai also shared this courage and was able to put his loyalties to God before that of his rulers. When told to bow down to Haman, he refused relying solely on his faith to guide him through any harm that might come his way. His strength is further demonstrated by his ability to help and encourage his cousin Esther to stay strong to her principles. .
Together, these role models would forever have their place in our holy Writings. Against the odds they stood up for everything we hold true, they put themselves second to the needs of our people, and led our ancestors to freedom and a new found commitment to God and his Torah.
In a world of football stars, supermodels and characters from TV and film, who are we choosing to look up to? What messages are we giving our children?
The story of Purim teaches us to find God even when he appears hidden, look behind the mask of nature, and to find those exemplary people in life to look up to and learn from.
Wishing you a beautiful Shabbat & Purim Sameach