Parashat Tzav Erev Shabbat 18 March 2022 (5782)
Week of 13-19 March 2022
Torah portion: Leviticus 6:1-8:36   Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-23
Theme: “The sacrifice of well-being”

I have heard Christians speak disparagingly of the ancient Jewish practice of animal sacrifice.  It seems to them inexcusably bloody and barbaric.  This view may be inspired to some extent by anti-Semitism but also by the feeling that modern people no longer do things like this.  Yet there are Christian traditions in which ‘counter-cultural practices’ still continue.  For example, we would be taken aback if a restaurant expected everybody at a table to drink their wine or coffee from a shared glass or cup.  Yet in church many Christians cherish the tradition of the common cup. Living for all these months in a pandemic has naturally made even those of us who were not overly fussy about matters of hygiene hyper-aware of possible dangers.  Many of us, including myself, have become accustomed to ‘attending’ church either via ZOOM or YouTube, and praying, again and again, the ‘spiritual communion’ prayer of St Alphonsus Liguori.  Our reluctance to so much as set foot in a church may be likened to the revulsion many feel at the idea of animal sacrifice. It is the same shrinking away from the unpleasant and distressing aspects of physical reality.

In the haftarah for this week’s Torah portion Jeremiah scorns the practice of burnt offerings and tells us that we should glory only in our “earnest devotion” to the lord, who takes ‘delight…in kindness, justice and equity in the world.”  (Jer 9:22-23) That is, we should express our devotion in deeds done for others.  If we can do that, do we need to turn up in church?  The obvious answer is that we most certainly do, in obedience to Jesus who commanded us to eat the bread and share the cup.  For those who have not physically attended church for a long time, or who have attended under the constraints imposed by the pandemic, the first time back to what used to be considered ‘normal’ could be considered a shelamim offering, “a sacrifice of well-being” motivated by “profound reverence and over-flowing happiness” (Etz Hayim, 593; Lv 7:11-34)

This sacrifice “is offered, according to Psalm 107 (and rabbinic law) by one who has recovered from illness, been rescued from danger, or returned safely from a journey.   It is accompanied by prayers of thanksgiving, proclaiming to all present the beneficence of God enjoyed by the offerer.  Mandated by happy circumstance, it is more of an obligation than a voluntary offering.”  (Berlin, 220) For all of us, may the “happy circumstance” of the end of the pandemic come soon!

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. If you have not been attending church services in person, what do you miss the most? 2. When life is back to ‘normal’, what, if anything, might you miss about the way of life imposed by pandemic restrictions?  3. The pandemic has highlighted how Christians differ about the relationship of church and state. Try to see this issue from the viewpoint of those with whom you disagree.

Bibliography: Berlin, Adele, & Marc Zvi Brettler, ed., The Jewish Study Bible (New York: 2004);               Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York: 2001).

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton
, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010

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