Parashat Tzav

By Jill Minkoff

This year, Parashat Tzav coincides with Shabbat HaGadol, the Sabbath preceding Pesah. The Torah verses describe offerings and rituals that help the Jewish people maintain a close relationship with God. For Shabbat HaGadol, we read Malakhi 3:4-24 in place of the Haftarah associated with Parashat Tzav. Malakhi’s verses also speak to this relationship and are as poignant today as during his lifetime.

Rev. Dr. A. Cohen, in commentary on The Twelve Prophets, describes the Jewish community of Malakhi’s era as negligent: the Temple service was in disrepute, Temple priests were careless with their duties, people were not tithing appropriately, there was general skepticism and indifference with regard to religion, morals were lax, and divorce and intermarriage were common (335). Gunther Plaut, in The Haftarah Commentary, likens this to contemporary times: we often doubt God’s presence and justice, there is instability within communities, and the rate of divorce and intermarriage has increased (576). With these similarities across time, Malakhi’s messages are still important and meaningful to us.

In Malakhi 3:6-7, God’s states:

“…I am the Lord-I have not changed…From the very days of your fathers you have turned away from My laws…Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you…”

These are words of hope. God does not and has not changed; yet God can and is willing to “turn back”, make teshuvah, just as humans can. Cohen emphasizes that God wants the Jewish people to turn from apathy and “rekindle” the spirit of religion; God is not necessarily concerned with the specific detail of ritual (as found in Parashat Tzav), but with ritual spirit that shows reverence to God (336). This ritual spirit, a process of teshuvah, is not easy.

Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh, in The Women’s Haftarah Commentary, states that this haftarah provides Jews with the goal of teshuvah but with no process for attaining it (288). In reading this haftarah and desiring to discover a process (begging to differ with Rabbi Missaghieh’s opinion and noting that Malakhi is asked “How shall we turn back?” [3:7]), one is able to uncover the following seven-step process for teshuvah:

Step 1:
Acknowledge that one has turned away from God (3:4-5).

Step 2:
Determine whom the problem involves and who will need to take the corrective action (3:5-7).

Step 3:
Determine how to take the corrective actions (3:8-9).

Step 4:
Know the reward for changing back to God’s ways (3:10-12).

Step 5:
Know that God is aware of the current realities and barriers to change (3:13-16).

Step 6:
Know the consequences of not changing (3:17-21).

Step 7:
Know what to do and do it (3:22-24).

When Elijah appears (and hopefully before), reconcile relations between parent and child into a vision of family “unity and affection” (Plaut 579). Yet, family reconciliation is difficult. Rabbi Missaghieh points out the immense nature of this challenge. She states there are no demonstrations of this teshuvah in biblical narration; so there are no “good old days” to look back upon and from which to learn (288). She adds that not changing is easier than facing one’s self (288). Therefore, we might add to our list of “what to do” the need to face oneself.

For us, other additions to this process may include being aware that a change is needed, understanding the laws of Moses and Israel, determining how to live according to these laws and rules, embracing the need to foster family unity, and living accordingly. It is not an easy task. It never has been.

May our celebration of Pesah begin a turning away from total apathy along with a rekindling of ritual spirit that brings family together. May we add our own commentary to the Haggadah’s recitation of answers to the four types of children. Our addition could include these Seven Steps of Teshuvah and their importance relative to family relationships.

We, the children of Jacob, must make the first act-ion in the process of teshuvah; then God will also turn and we will finally be face-to-face enjoying the radiance and blessings that are our due. __________________________________

Jill Minkoff is a rabbinical student at The Academy for Jewish Religion.