Private And Communal Judaism

Despite the occasional need for private expressions of Judaism, we must remember our connection to the larger public community.

Commentary on Parashat Tzav, Leviticus 6:1-8:36; Numbers 19:1-22

Leviticus, chapter 8, describes the consecration of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary carried in the Sinai desert, and of Aaron and his sons as priests. Moses assembles the entire congregation and performs the rituals that imbue the mishkan and the priests with holiness. Then he instructs Aaron and his sons:

You shall not go outside the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the day that your period of ordination is completed…. You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, keeping the Lord’s charge–that you may not die–for so I have been commanded. (Leviticus 8:33-35)

This period of isolation undoubtedly gave the priests time to contemplate their new status. Time spent away from their fellow Israelites may have strengthened their sense of connectedness to God. Their responsibilities as priests would set them apart from other Israelites; thus their consecration involved a physical separation from the people.

At the same time, they were aware that on the eighth day they were to leave the Tent of Meeting and rejoin the people. The priests were consecrated to serve God in part through their relations with the entire nation. They were to “teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them” (10:11).

Each of us struggles to achieve a balance between the private and public aspects of our Judaism. At times, we feel the need to be alone, to experience Judaism on a personal level, through prayer, study or contemplation. Such moments may strengthen us. But we must always be aware that the community is gathered outside waiting for us. We can never lose our sense of connection to others. Being a “kingdom of priests” requires that each of us employ our Jewish experience to teach others.

Reprinted with permission from CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

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