Wednesday, March 19, 2008

D'var Torah (and Purim Torah)

Mathilde Message – Parashat Tzav 5768

Leadership Takes Sacrifice(s)

While many will argue that this week’s parashah of tzav isn’t the most interesting, unless you are obsessed with korbanot (sacrifices given in the Mishkan and later, the Temple), I will show that by closely examining this selection, we can see that it is not just boring and repetitive, but interesting and instructive. The specific theme that I would like to focus on is that of leadership. As current and future leaders of the Jewish and general communities there is plenty for us to learn from God’s mitzvot and Moshe’s subtle yet deliberate actions in this week’s Parasha.

The first half of this parashah discusses a number of different offerings – the Olah (daily offering), Chata’t (Sin offering), and Todah (offering of Thanksgiving). While many in the Conservative movement do not pray for the restoration of sacrifices to the system introduced here, we can still learn important lessons from the values that the sacrifices were supposed to impart. We can learn from the fact that the Torah highlighted the occasions of sin and thanksgiving as those that required a special offering, because in our lives it is also important to take a moment of reflection when we have not lived up to our commitments to our friends, family, or God, and think about how we can improve our actions. As well, we it is also important to acknowledge God and the important people in our lives when we reach a positive milestone or achievement, and not take these occasions for granted like we often do.

Although it is an anomaly in the book of Vayikra to have a narrative, that is exactly what occurs in the second half of the parashah, where God instructs Moshe on the procedure for inducting Aaron and his sons as Kohanim, since up until that point Moshe himself had been in charge of the sacrifices. While we know from much of the Torah the Moshe is fallible and human, in this portion, the rabbis highlight some admirable decisions that he made. As part of this description, the Torah writes, “Moses said to the community, "This is what the Lord has commanded to be done." (Vayikra 8:5). Rashi comments on these seemingly superfluous words of Moshe, and explains that they come to teach us that these ceremonies that would be performed were done not for his glory, or the glory of his family (as Aaron and the Kohanim were his brother and nephews), but as a result of God’s command. Rashi’s interpretation can be applied to us in our daily lives, when we are in positions of leadership, power and responsibility. While it is often easy to fall into the trap of making decisions based on what is best for us personally, Moshe’s actions are a reminder for us to always consider the needs of the whole community when making decisions in our many jobs and volunteer positions, since this will ultimatelt make us stronger and cause us to become more understanding individuals.

One final interesting element in this section is the appearance of a special trop mark called a shalshelet (lit. chain) over the word וַיִּשְׁחָ֓ט (he slaughtered it) in 8:26. This mark only occurs 3 other times in the Torah, and since the note is held out 3 times longer than the next longest note, some have interpreted each of its occurrences with a time in the Torah when a character hesitated. In this case, the hesitation was by Moshe, before the last time he would offer a sacrifice before turning the role over to the kohanim. When we are in leadership positions, time often flies by and before we know it, it is time to hand over the reins to someone else. We learn here that even Moshe had this feeling of hesitation that we often experience when handing over a position at the end of our term; but just like Moshe, I pray that we should be able to finish our positions when the time comes, knowing that we have made important contributions tour communities that will hopefully be continued by those who succeed us.

Shabbat shalom umvorach!!!

The Rabbinical Assembly

Proceedings of the committee on Hebrew Vowels and Grammar

On the Status of The Sh’va Merachef

Rosh Chodesh Adar III, 5768 – Somewhere in the Brush Attic

After considering the very pressing matters of the status of musical instruments on Shabbat, blowing whistles on the aforementioned Shabbat, and more importantly, the permissibility of violent video games, the committee finally got down to its most pressing business, deciding the status of the possibly existent sh’va m’rachef. As one would expect, Teshuvot were submitted by the prominent grammarians, Rabbi Professor Joel Roth and Rabbi Professor Miles Cohen, respectively in favor and opposed to the recognition of this vowel. Rabbi Morry Heff Submitted a T'shuvah calling for the elimination of all sh'vaim ("well, dikduk has to evolve, and those sh'vaim are pretty useless anyway.") Senior committee member Rabbi Shraga Feivel Schwartz called for reprative therapy designed to turn sh'vas merachef into sh'vas nach once and for all. As predicted by the reporters of the Mathilde Message, the results are as folllws: The Heff and Schwartz papers were declared takkanot (large changes), and only recieved 7 out of the 13 necessary votes to pass. Both the Roth and Cohen papers passed with thirteen votes each, meaning that they are both valid opinions within the Conservative movement. All JTS grammar textbooks and course must offer an 'a' and 'b' section, for those who do and don't believe in the said sh'va merachef. In deference to the esteemed Rabbi Heff, purim services at JTS will be conducted this year without sh'vaim, and a special conference chaired by Rabbi Schwartz will be held Motza'ei Shvabat.

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