Taste of Torah: Tzav

וַיִּשְׁחָט וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה מִדָּמוֹ וַיִּתֵּן עַל-תְּנוּךְ אֹזֶן-אַהֲרֹן הַיְמָנִית וְעַל-בֹּהֶן יָדוֹ הַיְמָנִית וְעַל-בֹּהֶן רַגְלוֹ הַיְמָנִית: וַיַּקְרֵב אֶת-בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן וַיִּתֵּן מֹשֶׁה מִן-הַדָּם עַל-תְּנוּךְ אָזְנָם הַיְמָנִית וְעַל-בֹּהֶן יָדָם הַיְמָנִית וְעַל-בֹּהֶן רַגְלָם הַיְמָנִית וַיִּזְרֹק מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַדָּם עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ סָבִיב

And when [the ram] was slaughtered, Moses took some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. Moses then brought forward the sons of Aaron, and put some of the blood on the ridges of their right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet; and Moses dashed the rest of the blood against every side of the altar.

—Leviticus 8:23-24

As we unpack parashat Tzav, we face the second parashah in a row made up entirely of rules, regulations, and explanations of the priestly class and its sacrificial rites. While from a ritual standpoint, these chapters offer a sharp contrast to how we live our lives as modern Jews, the narratives that they contain offer lessons that are profoundly relevant.

Toward the end of our parashah, Moshe prepares for the ritual of ordaining Aharon and his sons for their priestly duties. In that ceremony, an ordination ram is slaughtered as a sacrifice. Moshe then takes the ram’s blood and puts it on the edge of Aharon’s right ear, thumb, and big toe. He does the same for each of Aharon’s sons.

While this ritual might seem unique, it’s not uncommon—at least not for long. Just a few chapters later, we see the exact same ritual of blood on the right ear, thumb, and toe used to purify the metzora, those with skin disease, who have been expelled from the camp and quarantined because of their illness.

The repetition of this unique ritual seems to beg a number of questions: What connection might there be between these moments of ordination and post-metzora purification? Why does this unique ritual focus on those particular parts of the body? Ibn Ezra offers that these body parts are “the essence of all actions, and the right ones because of the strength of the right side, and the ear ridge is a reminder to listen to what is commanded.” In a sense, this is a reminder of the significance of our actions; it’s a sign that our actions—from top to bottom—have very profound consequences. Indeed, whether we are priests or laypeople, even marginalized laypeople like the metzora: Our actions matter.

This alone would serve as a powerful message for our leaders, but in linking this ritual with tzara’at, the lesson goes even deeper. Our Torah and rabbinic tradition remind us how easy it can be for those in positions of power to forget what it is like to be on the margins of society. Through the ram’s blood, the priests ritually connect themselves to the marginalized ones from outside the camp. It’s as though by embodying this practice, they remind themselves of what it’s like to be on the fringes; recognizing that without truly seeing all those in their midst, they will not be able to grow into their promise as leaders and shape community. But as we know, this is not only about our leaders. Each of us possesses the transformative power of empathy. In truly seeing the humanity in the other, embracing those who are suffering and bringing them into shared space, may we continue to bring holiness and compassion into our world.

 

Cantor David Mintz

Written By Cantor David Mintz

Cantor David Mintz serves as the director of the Center for Prayer and Spirituality at B’nai Jeshurun. He lives on the Upper West Side with his wife, Deborah and their son, Nadav.