Parashat T’zav

Friday, March 22, 2019 /15 Adar II, 5779
Parashat T’zav Leviticus 6:1-8:36

Dear Friends,

Sometimes we overlook just how practical and simple the Torah really is.

Take, for example, this verse in our Torah portion this week, describing the process which the priest would undergo in managing the burnt offering. “He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a pure place.” (Lev. 6:4)

Now, there are a number of commentators who imagine myriad rationales for the priest changing clothing amid the procedure. It could be regarding purity, or holiness, or a Divine encounter.  Notice, however, what Rashi, our chief medieval Torah commentator teaches here. “This is not obligatory, but good manners, so that he shall not soil in removing the ashes the garments in which he officiates continually.”

Thus, Rashi teaches that the reasoning behind the command to change clothing is not at all “religious,” but simply it pertains to not getting his clothing dirty, and having to have them cleaned. It is common decency.

This might be surprising, but it shouldn’t be.  Much of Jewish practice is based in practicality. For instance, we are not allowed to move the Shabbat candlesticks after we light them. Why? Some argue that the place where we lit them is now a holy place. Really? Is my counter-top transformed by my placing the candlesticks upon it? No – the real reason we are prohibited from moving the candlesticks is that one of two bad things might occur if we move them: 1. The candles might go out and we cannot rekindle them once it is Shabbat, so we’d be sitting in the dark or, 2. We could fall and start a fire and burn the house down. Hence, we are not to move the candles once they are lit.

Practicality – it may seem utterly mundane, and in fact, it is! But, that is the essential teaching of Torah. The whole essence of our Tradition is just that – to make the mundane into the holy. When each little moment during the day can be Divinely special, from changing clothing to encountering a hummingbird to setting candlesticks on the counter, then we are doing Judaism correctly!

Have a wonderful Shabbat – nice and plain!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Doug Kohn