Celebrating Life With All Your Being: Parashat Tzav
Parashat Tzav relates a detailed description of the different kinds of offers and some of the specific ceremonial aspects related to the beginning of the “work” of the priests (Kohanim). Now that we are already in the second Torah portion of Leviticus we understand that it wasn’t a misunderstanding – the book continues to deal with the subject of “offers and altars”. Reading this anachronistically it most resembles a butcher’s house!
The book of Genesis dealt with the creation of the world, the development of the monotheist faith and various stories of family relationships, conflicts, emotions and urges. The book of Exodus related our formation as a People and as a nation, the establishment of rules and deep ideas. What is then the role of Leviticus? In other words – OH GOD, if You,God, wrote the Torah, what were You thinking?? Or for those of us who believe that a man or a group of men wrote it, again, the question remains – oh my God, what were you thinking??
The answer is: Meaning!
Let’s play for a second with our imagination. Suppose that you have a good job, a nice salary, your relationships are generally good, you have a beautiful family and you deeply love them. Will the fact that everything is good be enough to allow you to appreciate your beautiful family or the beautiful job you have? I’d suggest that probably no. And if you like cooking you might know why; In order to emphasize tastes your recipe should contain some contrast. The tastiest cakes often contain some salt, coffee etc. This is also correct for a huge variety of other foods. It is not enough that all the ingredients are tasty, if you do not have a contrast you probably won’t perceive that.
That contrast in our life we call rituals. And that’s the huge contribution of Leviticus. It comes to say that even when we have in our life irrefutable facts of profound importance, their existence by itself is not enough to actively awaken our awareness and to make us perceive their unmatched value.
I would dare say that everybody has rituals, that our need in rituals is inherent to our condition as human beings. Sometimes we are not aware of their existence in our life, and sometimes we are not aware that this is what we need.
We create rituals because it helps us affirm an order in our universe. We identify what matters in our life and we try to capture and to exalt that, we contemplate and we hold it in our heart, and we get filled with energies to move forwards. Life without rituals is like walking without leaving footprints. Rituals convert love, happiness, emotions etc. into a transcendental imprint. Ritual also has the capability to connect us with the sublime – be it our elevated values or even God (depending on your beliefs).
At this point you might ask yourself why you need that. It is not my assumption that you don’t have a meaning in your life, but rather that the meaning in your life is so important that it has to be celebrated. Judaism offers a framework for celebrating life, and it doesn’t have to be religious (though there are various Jewish religious possibilities), it can be secular, or just cultural.
Returning to our imagination – would you run a marathon on one leg if you could do it with two? Would you choose to read a book with one eye if you could do it with both? Probably in all the cases, for the various challenges in your life, you would try to use your full potential. Dismissing rituals is giving up the use of full potential to perceive your world. So find your way and celebrate the meaning in your life!