“Spiritual Movements in the Life of a Jew”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Tzav, continues the theme that dominates much of the book of Leviticus: the roles of the priests and the Levites in the Tabernacle and the regulations regarding the complex sacrificial ritual.

Parashat Tzav itself focuses on several sacrifices, the daily burnt offering, the meal offering, the guilt offering, the peace offering and the thanksgiving offering. The parasha concludes with a description of the consecration of the sanctuary and the installation of the priests.

There are many important messages that are conveyed by these seemingly obscure and arcane events and rituals. Many of these important themes may be found in the NJOP website archives of the weekly messages on parashat Tzav.

With the arrival of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, many of us are already in the Passover mode. Nevertheless, we must not neglect a profound message that is found in this week’s Torah portion.

In Leviticus 7:28-34, we learn of the parts of the peace offering that are to be placed on the altar and the parts that are to be presented as gifts to the priests. Before they are placed on the altar or given to the priests, they must be waved in all four directions and then lifted up and lowered.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105, foremost commentator on the Bible) notes that the priests would move the pieces forward and backward, upward and downward.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888, the great Bible commentator and leader of German Jewry) explains the significance of waving the animal’s chest, thigh and entrails. Waving the entrails is meant to teach us to dedicate to G-d and to our fellow man, all the urges and aims of our senses. Waving the chest is intended to remind us to dedicate all thoughts and desires that are stimulated by our senses. Waving the thigh shows that all our efforts and accomplishments should be devoted to G-d and man as well. We are then to direct all these to the whole of the world around us by waving horizontally, and to our G-d above us, by waving vertically.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in his Sichas Shabbos Parashat Tzav 5746, that the upward and downward movements represent the spiritual movements of a person. Sometimes a person is in the “growth mode,” at other times, in spiritual decline.

Nevertheless, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whether a person is on a spiritual high or low, one should always endeavor to go “forward and backward,” to influence other people positively. Forward and backward represent the quality of spreading Judaism to other people, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I would add that one of the most effective ways for a person to deal with his/her own downward spiritual movement, is to reach out to help others. That challenge often results in that person’s own spiritual growth, in developing an appreciation of things they never knew about in their own Jewish life.

This is a perfect message for us to consider as Passover, the festival of redemption, approaches. We must not fail to use this opportunity to grow personally, even though we may be in our own personal rut. We must not allow others to see us as evil, or to influence us to do evil. Even as we waver up and down, we must step forward and reach out to others, to show our own personal goodness and the extraordinary goodness of our tradition.

May you be blessed.

This Shabbat, the Shabbat that immediately precedes Passover, is known as Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat. On this Shabbat, we read a special Haftarah from the prophet Malachi 3:4-24, in which we find the verse: “Behold I send to you Elijah the Prophet, before the great and awesome day of G-d.” For more information on Shabbat Hagadol, see Tzav 5762-2002.