Tag Archives: Israelite

D’var Torah: Parashat Tzav (Rishon)

22 Mar
IDF Soldiers at the Western Wall

IDF Soldiers at the Western Wall (Photo credit: Israel Defense Forces)

With great power comes great responsibility. Now that the Tabernacle has been completed and we have received the instructions on how to make the appropriate offerings, the next piece of the sacrificial puzzle must be put into place. Who will be commanded with the proper administration and sacrifice of the offerings brought to the alter? Aaron and his sons. The priests are given certain rights which are detailed early in the parasha, but are also expected to be responsible for this critical element in the Israelite’s relationship with God. Similarly, army service in the State of Israel is a responsibility that accompanies the privilege and rights of living in the Middle-East’s only democracy. This week I completed my tzav rishon (first order or first command) which is the official beginning of the army’s draft process.

Tzav rishon consists of multiple stations on different floors of the local draft office. An interview to verify personal information, psychological aptitude, and a Hebrew exam, even for native speakers. A complete medical evaluation, including walking through the hall with the sample cup, two 19 year old girls with an extremely tight blood-pressure cuff, and a bunch of waiting. Finally, a test called the psycho-technical exam (IQ test basically), from which I was, for reasons unknown, thankfully exempt, as well as the verification of details for lone soldiers. Unfortunately I have to return to do the last step, but I was pleased that it only took me four and a half hours. Granted I arrived at 7:15 whereupon I was greeted by soldiers boarding a bus to begin basic training and a dear friend who was on guard duty. I will spare everybody the details, but there were a few moments worth noting.

1) I took the Hebrew test, and could not, at the beginning, understand a single word. The girl administering the test looked at me and said, in Hebrw of course, “Oh, don’t worry, even most native speakers don’t know these words. I started you with the highest level of difficulty.” Great, thanks for that. Luckily I did well enough on the rest of the Hebrew to avoid spending any time in the dreaded Army ulpan.

2) While I was waiting to see the doctor, a young man sat down next to me, a Haredi yeshiva student, of which there were a bunch. He needed help filling out his medical survey, so I helped as best I could. I told him to sign at the bottom once he was finished answering. He looked at me sternly, sat up straight, and told me that his rebbe at yeshiva told him not to sign any papers. Great. I told him that he was just verifying his health, and that it was “safe” to sign. At that moment I was too outnumbered to get into an argument about why he should be serving in the army. I assume that those sitting around me had benefited all their lives from being citizens of Israel, something that has only been true for me since August, and now that they have reached the point of responsibility they were looking for any way out. Imagine if Aaron and his sons used that method.

3) Upon completing the medical section, the doctor offered me a piece of matza to take with me. Only in Israel can they first reduce you to a piece of meat as a means of assessing your value to the army and then offer you a large overpriced water cracker known as shmura matza.

It may be possible to expand the metaphor of rights and responsibilities to the larger biblical emphasis on the Israelites as the chosen people. Leaving aside potentially problematic elements of this notion that arise in contemporary times, the fact is that even as they were chose, the Israelites were given a set of responsibilities. They were to uphold their half of the relationship with God, and later to become a light unto the nations. Aaron and his sons find themselves in a similar situation, enjoying the rights that come with being a member of the priestly class, while shouldering the burden of being the emissaries of the Israelites in their service to God. In modern Israel, every citizen is protected equally under the law, yes there are problems, but every citizen has the right to vote, protest, and hold public office. With those rights come the responsibility, the command, to participate actively in the defense or building of The State. So when I am face to face with individuals who are doing everything they can to avoid national service (civilian or military), I want to let loose and remind them to follow in the steps of Aaron and his sons, as they are given זכויות (rights) they are also commanded (צו).

Shabbat shalom.

D’var Torah: Vayikra

15 Mar

Torah (Photo credit: quinet)

With a newly completed משכן (Tabernacle), Moses and Bnei Yisrael must undertake the demanding task of regular offerings to God. The Parasha itself, as well as the Book of Vayikra in general serve as handbook for the priests and their duties. It is then understandable why the third book of the Torah is known as ספר כהנים (Book of Priests). As we now find ourselves in the midst of the interlude between narrative sections of the Torah, first the building of the Tabernacle and now the detailing of the service to be done therein, a reasonable question becomes, what exactly is the purpose of centralizing the sacrificial rite?

Fortunately both the Talmud and later commentators also sought an answer to this question. The fourteen chapters of Mishnah zevachim contain the specific details of each offering, its requirements and disqualifications. However, upon review of these chapters we are left only with a more complete picture of the sacrificial system, but still without a defined reason. The Gemara in Zevachim 112b makes an attempt to answer, suggesting that every alternative site for sacrificial worship was forbidden once there was an established central location as a means to prevent idol worship and. But if that is the case, then how can our post-Modern minds not ask the next obvious question, what about pluralism? I am not going to attempt to delve into that broader issue at this juncture, except to say that Shadal, the 19th Century Italian commentator, does provide one possible answer. He writes that national unity is the ostensible goal of the sacrificial centralization. Although sometimes difficult to imagine, the daily rite, as well as the thrie yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem must have been a sight to behold as the entire nation journeyed en masse to the Temple.

Since the destruction of the Temple, we are no longer able to fulfill this particular aspect of the Torah replete with the necessary specifications and resulting national solidarity. Instead, it must then become incumbent upon all of us to seek other paths through which we can achieve Jewish unity.

Shabbat shalom.