[JOI Word of Torah] Big Tent Judaism: Tzav
Kerry M. Olitzky
KOlitzky at joi.org
Mon Mar 17 18:41:00 GMT 2008
"Big Tent Judaism" Word of Torah
March 22, 2008 / 15 Adar II, 5768
Perhaps it is the liberal tendency in me, but it is hard for me to find
resonance in words like Tzav (command). I even shy away from translating
mitzvot as commandments, preferring the more uplifting "sacred instructions"
as a more descriptive translation. Some will argue that mine is a silly
attempt to be politically correct or perhaps that I am being overly
Nevertheless, when I get stuck on such a word as tzav, it makes it harder to
continue to dig into the Torah portion, and into myself. This is
particularly true in this case because the title really does establish the
theme for the entire portion. It is not merely the first big word, as some
would have you believe is the only way that Torah portion titles are chosen.
I also believe that the name of the portion becomes a guidepost for both our
individual spiritual journeys, as well as the collective journey of the
Jewish people. And I want to make sure that those who, like me, follow these
guideposts don't get lost in the desert along the way. This is particularly
important in this portion-and in much of Leviticus-since the text is
overwhelmed by Temple cult details, not what would seem to be appropriate
ingredients for a spiritual journey of any sort.
As I look at the portion a little more closely, my sense is that the text
implies "when you command Aaron and his sons," as if to say when they are
ready to hear your command, when they are ready to be responsive to it. They
must be ready because commandments do not matter if no one is willing to
listen to them. This seems to reflect a great deal of the book of Leviticus.
The same holds true for the entire people of Israel, especially if we are to
raise ourselves to the level of becoming "a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation" (Exodus 19:6). If I weren't prepared to follow the directions of
Leviticus, then why would I be engaging the text in the first place?
For some the sacrificial system and the details of the specific offerings as
suggested in this portion are more like a Fourth of July picnic-lots of
family and friends and a good time had by all. But I understand the
sacrificial system (korban from the root krv) as a collection of vehicles
that may help us to get closer to God (mikarev). Perhaps the sacrificial
system is no longer in vogue, but its foundations remain.
When I elect to voluntarily place myself into a covenantal relationship with
God, I accept the notion of commands and directions-as translated as
mitzvot. I am even prepared to accept the sacrificial system-even though I
no longer have to practice it. All of the commands become guidance for my
journey. This is what also directs me to work toward an inclusive Jewish
community. I can share the privilege and blessings of this covenant with as
many people as would like to come along the journey with me, and together we
can raise ourselves up to become a holy nation.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is the author of many inspiring books that bring the
Jewish wisdom tradition into everyday life, and is, among other books, the
author of Introducing My Faith and My Community: The Jewish Outreach
Institute Guide for the Christian in a Jewish Interfaith Relationship
To subscribe to the free weekly JOI Big Tent Judaism Word of Torah mailing
list, please send an email to PGolin at JOI.org.
For more information visit: https://joi.org/mailman/listinfo/wordoftorah
You are welcome to use these ideas in your own work and writings as long as
you would be so kind as to credit Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and the Jewish
Outreach Institute, thank you.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the WordOfTorah