“Making Holiness Contagious”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Tzav, we are reintroduced to the laws of the Mincha, מִנְחָה , the meal offering, that were first recorded in Leviticus 2.

The Mincha, was a meal offering made of finely-ground wheat flour, oil, and frankincense, in most cases mixed with water.  There are a number of varieties of Mincha offerings. The plain Mincha consists of the uncooked mixture of the basic ingredients. Other forms of Mincha offerings are cooked, baked or fried into various consistencies.

Because the Mincha is the least expensive of the offerings that can be brought to the Temple, it was most often donated by poor people. Reflecting the extra effort involved in bringing this offering, it is assigned a special sanctity–-that of קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים , Holy of Holies, and may only be eaten by the priests themselves in the Temple environs.

Although other holy priestly foods may usually be eaten by all members of the priests’ household, the Torah declares in Leviticus 6:11 regarding the Mincha offering, כָּל זָכָר בִּבְנֵי אַהֲרֹן יֹאכְלֶנָּה חָק עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם מֵאִשֵּׁי השׁם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יִגַּע בָּהֶם יִקְדָּשׁ , Every male of the children of Aaron shall eat it, an eternal portion for your generations from the fire offerings of the Lord; whatever touches them shall become holy.

Not only is consumption of the Mincha permitted only by male priests and must be eaten only in the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting, but, the Torah additionally emphasizes that whatever touches them shall become holy.

It is interesting to note that one of the basic principles of kashruth is derived from this particular verse–the law of absorption. So, for instance, if a pareve, non-dairy non-meat food item is cooked in a recently used dairy pot, the food assumes the taste of the dairy that is absorbed in the walls of the pot. As a result, the entire contents of the pot are officially regarded as dairy.

The Mincha is considered so sacred that any other foods that come in contact with it automatically become sacred and can only be eaten in the courtyard of the sanctuary by the male priests.

The concept of transferring sacredness from one object or idea to another object or idea also plays a prominent part in the Passover Seder, especially in the Seder’s opening steps.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook explains that the middle matzah at the beginning of the seder is broken into two parts to symbolize two different ways of “Jewish eating.” The smaller part, which is consumed later in the seder when we make the blessing over the matzah, serves to satisfy our human hunger, our biological need for food.

But, says Rabbi Kook, there is also a need to uplift the human spirit and refine the human soul. Therefore, the larger piece of the matzah, known as the “Afikoman,” ( the larger part of middle matzah, which is broken in two during the early stages of the Passover Seder, and set aside to be eaten as a dessert at the end of the Passover meal) is eaten at the very end of the meal when we are completely satiated and our stomachs are full, as a symbol of spiritual sustenance.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik expressed this concept in the following manner, “The world has learned how to take the animalistic act of eating and make it into an aesthetic act.  However, we Jews have learned how to take an aesthetic act and raise it to an act of holiness.”

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach explains the reason why the matzah is broken at the beginning of the seder. He suggests that the broken matzah of the Afikoman represents the brokenness of the world, the many broken hearts, broken lives, and many tears. In fact, we live in a world of brokenness and that unless we recognize that brokenness, it is impossible to repair the world.

Asks Rabbi Carlebach, “How do we repair the world?  How do we bring wholeness to the world again?” He answers: “Our children.  Our children will bring back the broken piece and make the world whole again.”

Another powerful lesson of beauty and holiness is conveyed as the seder formally opens with the Maggid portion, the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The matzah is raised and the participants declare, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.  All who are hungry, come and eat, all who are in need, join our Passover.”

Rabbi Kook explained that only when the Jews were freed from slavery could the essence of the Jewish people emerge. This essence is the expression of loving-kindness in which the sanctity of human life is acknowledged. Therefore, the seder begins with an act of kindness, inviting all those who are in need into our homes to partake of the seder and join with the joyous celebration of Passover.

The noble opening acts of our seder, the breaking of the matzah and inviting strangers into our homes, very much reflect what has been learned from the Mincha, the meal offering, which sanctifies anything it touches.

It is very much hoped that the lessons of restoring the broken hearts and the broken pieces, inviting those in need into our homes, will create a sense of “Holy of Holies,” in our lives that existed in ancient Temple times. We are also hopeful that those who come in contact with the symbols and rituals of the seder will be infected by the power of its message.

May the holiness reflected in the Passover symbols and rituals become contagious and spread throughout the planet, enlightening the world with good and noble deeds.

May you be blessed. Wishing you and yours a Happy and Kosher Passover.

The Passover insights were taken from The Night that Unites Passover Hagaddah by Aaron Goldscheider.

Please note: The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Friday night, March 30th and all day Saturday and Sunday, March 31st and April 1st. The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Thursday night, April 5th, and continue through Friday and Saturday, April 6th and 7th.

Chag Kasher V’samayach.