Opening Day: Tzav 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What was your most memorable first day of school? First day of work? First day of anything? What made those first days particularly memorable?

As the priests of the Tabernacle start their first day of Divine service, God has a lengthy inauguration ceremony in store:

The Pitch: “‘Take Aaron along with his sons, and the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble the community leadership at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.’ Moses did as Adonai commanded him. And when the leadership was assembled at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, Moses said to the leadership, ‘This is what Adonai has commanded to be done.’” – Leviticus 8:2-5

Swing #1: “The ritual [of the priestly ordination] represents one of the more complex biblical rituals with a significant number of participants. [Leviticus 8] clearly describes a founding ritual, which is designed to bring into existence a certain state, institution, or situation, which is different from a maintenance ritual. The human participants in the ordination of Leviticus 8 play a voluntary part, which cannot be said for other ritual participants, such as the animals that were involved in the sacrificial subrites.” – Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible

Swing #2: “Here, concretely, is an illustration of the Biblical overlap between experience and tradition. Aaron and his sons had been washed; they had been dressed carefully in their vestments; the anointing oil had been sprinkled on the altar seven times, and then on Aaron’s head; the sacrifices of the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of ordination had been made according to the laws of sacrifice; those parts of the animals that had to be burned into smoke were burned into smoke, those parts of the animal that had to be placed outside the camp were placed outside the camp; the unleavened bread, the cake of oil bread, and the wafer had been deployed also according to decree; then a second sin offering, then a second burnt offering … even in the great strangeness of the priestly cult, the Jew can recognize the universe of the Commandments, of the law, of the ritual – of what would come to be known as the tradition.” – Leon Wieselthier, “Leviticus”, from Congregation, David Rosenberg, editor

Swing #3: “By placing sacrificial blood on the priest’s extremities, the Torah indicates that the newly ordained kohen has passed through a transitional moment from being a private citizen to becoming a representative of God and a public leader. Ear, hand, and foot – and abbreviated code for his entire body – emphasize that service to one’s highest ideals, to one’s people, or to one’s God must be total. Through his induction into the Temple ritual, the kohen entered a higher state of purity, devotion, and service. To become a nation of priests requires of us no less.” – Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, The Bedside Torah

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, does the inauguration rituals described in our portion set a specific mood for the priests? What mood is it? Should the supervisors of these workers be responsible for creating that mood? To what extent are we responsible for motivating ourselves to do well at our jobs?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Please join us Tuesday, March 26th, at 7:00PM, when we’ll meet Rabbi Sharon Shalom and learn about Ethiopian Jewish Thought. This event is free and open to the public.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of Opening Day, I know that it’s important for Major League Baseball to market their game in foreign countries, but the fact that the regular season already began for the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, who played two games against one another in Japan this week, while everyone else still has a week of Spring Training, is too much for this fan to take. Stop teasing us – let the real games begin!

Shabbat Shalom!