Parshat Tzav

Parshat Tzav: Through the Lens of Healing
by Margaret Frisch Klein

At first glance this week’s portion, parashat Tzav would appear to be dry ‘ perhaps appropriate for wandering in the desert ‘ but, in reality, there is much to glean from it about healing.

My teacher, Rabbi Nehemia Polen, talks about the importance of the sacrificial ritual. He explains that the stability of the routine, one in the evening and one in the morning, in fact brings healing, just by doing them ‘ routinely. The evening offering was left burning all night until the new one was added in the morning. That constancy was a reminder of the Divine Presence, all the time from evening until morning and back to evening again. God was always present and available. He tells the story of how important this daily ritual was ‘ both then and now. Then, the whole sacrificial system was about reconnecting with the Divine, about making that relationship right, about recreating the powerful experience people had at Mount Sinai. Think about it. Sinai quaked and was filled with smoke and in that smoke the Divine Presence rests.

More recently we saw the power of the constancy of “one in the evening, one in the morning,” immediately after 911. The journalists at the Wall Street Journal were quick to return to the familiar. They did what journalists do. They got out an extra edition by that evening and a paper again in the morning, their own ritual of “one in the evening, one in the morning” which helped heal both the journalists and the nation.

On a personal note, I too have been thinking about “one in the evening, one in the morning” as I wrestle with diabetes. Now I take two pills, one in the evening which is supposed to last, to control the sugar until the next pill in the morning kicks in – my own ritual of one in the evening, one in the morning to bring healing.

But this parashah has other examples of offerings brought for healing. When we read about the purification offering, we are told that “anything that touches its flesh shall become holy.”(Lev. 6:20) Again we see that the concern is about restoring a relationship, making something holy and thereby healing. Continuing, we find that the ritual of reparation, of atonement is described as kodesh kodashim, the holy of holies, the most holy. Repairing relationships is holy and healing.

The rabbis of the Talmud taught “repent one day before your death.” (Avot 2:10) They might have added, “forgive one day before your death” It leads to the question, “But when will I die.” They counsel, “Repent every day.” Morning and night with nothing left over, giving the opportunity to begin again, everyday. It is part of the healing cycle, bringing us wholeness and peace. The next sacrifice, that of well being or peace offering, the zevah ha-shlamim comes from this idea of wholeness or completeness. It was to be combined with the thanksgiving offering, again daily. We echo this routine in our daily service, in the Ma’ariv and Shacharit service, again one in the evening and one in the morning, as we pray for repentance, forgiveness, healing, thanksgiving, and peace. Its ritual, too, brings comfort and healing.

Finally, circling back to Rabbi Polen, the ritual of dedication, also described in this parashah, is one of healing, as well. As he describes it, it is like pushing a giant “reset” button on your dishwasher or garbage disposal, in order to restore the balance in the universal order, to return to the purity of creation. As it parallels G-d’s creation of the world in seven days, it enables us to do the work of tikkun ha-olam, to heal the world.

This text which maybe difficult for us moderns, not accustomed to the blood and guts of the sacrificial system, who may even find its gore distasteful. Still, it gives us a clue that ritual ‘ something performed regularly, routinely, as a matter of course, can bring healing and comfort.