Parashat Tzav | Leviticus 6:1-8:36

Our parsha this week continues to outline the korbanot (sacrifices) that are to take place in the Temple. The parsha‘s title, tzav, is an imperative – it means command, from the same Hebrew root as mitzvah. While last week’s portion Vayikra was a specific list of instructions for the individual tasked with bringing the offering, this week’s parsha is dedicated to the priest assisting with the offering; in other words, the layperson. This parsha outlines what they should do, how they should act, and what they must wear. In its specificity is a certain degree of holiness; one cannot approach any parsha in Leviticus without recognizing the sanctity of its amazingly detailed instructions.

As my teacher Rabbi Richard Levy writes, “While the lay-offerer placed his or her hands on the animal’s head, suggesting a desire that the offerer himself or herself might be accepted as the offering, the descriptions of the garments of the priest suggest that the priest is part of the offering, offering up himself each time he assists a “layperson” to do so. [It is] an impressive display of altruism – and of psychological resilience.” In other words, the priest – in a demonstration of true devotion – is expected to become physically immersed in the ritual taking place so that they may draw their assistant closer to God. In that way, the layperson is empowered – and, by extension, so is is the community.

I cannot help but breathe into this text a modern-day parallel. This past Sunday Rabbi Aaron Meyer led a group of our congregants in the planting of an urban garden on our Seattle campus. Thanks to the efforts of Brian Holers, Allen McCall and many others, the earth was prepared for plants and seeds of all kinds; vegetation that will – in due time – feed the hungry in our midst. This modern-day korban is indeed an offering of the highest order from these men and women. By physically participating in the taxing process of urban farming, our congregants – led through the tireless efforts of one of our rabbis – were indeed immersed in a certain type of holy ritual, one we pray will continue to sustain our community in the months and years to come. Through their actions and devotion, they were empowered – and, by extension, so are we.

Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen