Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, ends with a ceremony consecrating the first Israelite priests, Aaron and his sons. The blood of a sacrificial ram is smeared on an ear, a hand, and a foot. With this, their bodies are sanctified and their sacred work begins. As paradigms have shifted, we don’t mark our own service as a Kingdom of Priests with animal blood. Still, the Talmud debates just how many paces we may walk from bed, upon awakening, before washing our hands, renewing their dedication to serve as God’s arms in the world.
It’s not many paces – at most, about eight strides.
We don’t really know why the hand, ear and the foot – but it is not hard to assign meaning to dedication of our feet to walk paths of righteousness, our hands to help and to create beauty, and our ears to hear important calls without and within, cries of suffering as well as the still small voices with which our souls speak to us.
In this week of AIPAC’s need to apologize for a crowd sucked into applauding hatred of the most insidious order, I cannot help but feel we have forgotten our role as priests tending an eternal flame of holiness in our world. And the week’s news, including Jewish misuse of [clapping] hands and [cheering] mouths, and including new acts of ISIS terror, helps me to understand the wisdom in ritualizing a pledge of our bodies to holy service. Let’s remember the touchstone of Abraham Joshua Heschel, praying with his feet as he marched at Selma. In the aftermath of the attack in Brussels, I see Facebook posts entreating me to “pray for peace;” it just feels too passive. We can’t leave it to a transcendent god; we have to be hands, ears, feet, mouths, hearts, and heads dedicated to serve peace, enact peace, sacrifice for peace, bring peace, be peace.
Today is Purim. God is not mentioned in Esther’s story. There is no supernatural miracle. Her prayer was not a prayer to be saved, rather, she and her people fasted in prayer for the human strength to set things right. Psalms describe God as a divine bedrock of strength, tzur levavi, the rock of our hearts, and it is for connection to this Source that Esther prayed. But, as Reb Nachman of Bratzlav explains, God’s heart is, indeed, a tzur, a rock, and we must warm God’s heart to open with our own acts of compassion. Then, following our earthly example, God’s heart will crack open and we will experience divine love flowing as water flowed form the rock in the dessert.
This is the sentiment of Rabbi Menachem Creditor’s song from Psalms sung in protest at AIPAC – Olam Chesed Yibane. “If we build this world in love, then God will build this world in love.” Let’s not go another eight paces without rededicating ourselves to agency in determining the story of our own unfolding megillah.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.