These days of coronavirus evoke questions, thoughts and concerns. Leadership crises in various countries have been replaced by attempts to find a solution to the coronavirus crisis while we are each faced with personal crises of equal size and intensity. On the evening of Passover we’ll ask – whom didn’t corona pass over?
There is no doubt that these are unusual times,there has never been a time like it and I hope that there won’t be many years like this one ahead of us. We don’t know how many victims this crisis will produce. We cannot count the victims by mortality rates alone, but also in the personal, social and national price that we each pay.
Parashat Tzav aligns remarkably well, metaphorically, with today’s reality. The entire parasha is about ritual sacrifice, and unlike last week’s parasha that focused on the laws of ritual sacrifice, here the focus is on the practical details that seem so irrelevant to our lives today. Parashat Tzav details the sacrificial rituals and preparations for the Mishkan (tabernacle) and general rules and laws of purification. While last week's parasha made the reasons for offering sacrifices clear and next week's parasha tells of the inauguration of the Mishkan, parashat Tzav is concerned only with the ceremonies themselves. The rules are strict – Aaron and his sons command the Israelites to hold a very intricate ceremony, with details pertaining to clothing, tools and even the debris that is to be removed from the camp in order to purify everything and to preserve God’s fire,
״A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out״ (Leviticus 6:6).
In next week’s parasha, this fire will get angry, punish and burn, so it is advisable to pay close attention and follow all of the rules of the ceremony.
In this environment of fear and intimidation, we briefly return our focus to coronavirus – the great panic, the attempts of individuals and states to regain control amid the chaos and uncertainty and the major sacrifices made by the general public for the sake of health, the economy and social resilience.
What relevance can we find in reading of the various ritual sacrifices – from the offering for sin to the offering of thanksgiving – and how can we reconcile with the concept? Where do we find any hint of personal accountability for our actions before we have taken them? In direct opposition to the theory of the priests is the theory of the prophets. In Isaiah 1, Isaiah opposes the priests’ theory:
“What need have I of all your sacrifices?” Says the LORD. “I am sated with burnt offerings of rams, And suet of fatlings, And blood of bulls; And I have no delight In lambs and he-goats” (Isaiah 1:11)
Instead of demanding worship and ritual, he demands a moral society. Isaiah is not satisfied with ceremony – he asks for intention and morality:
“Cease to do evil; Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).
We face an unusual Passover seder, different from the community and family-oriented traditions of the holiday. This year “you shall tell your children” takes on a somewhat different form. This year we tell our children of our gratitude for the mutual responsibility to preserve health, and the tremendous generosity of so many people and organizations. We remember that maintaining order and preserving the fire so that it doesn't burn out, so that it provides us with life and doesn’t burn us, will not be achieved through rituals alone, but rather, through moral actions and choices, both large and small.