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D’var Torah Tzav

Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:

For the few of you who remember ‘This Hour has Seven Days’, I was in Ottawa at a conference at the Chateau Laurier, and at a plenary, the guest speaker was Laurier Lapierre. I told him about my son, Adam, who, at the age of about six, told me that he had seen G-d in a dream. Knowing that this is usually not a good thing, I asked him what G-d looked like, and he replied, “The man on the five dollar bill.” I refer to this as a tri-Lauriate.

Here is this week’s D’var Torah:

Parshat Tzav — Shabbat HaGadol
April 1, 2023 | 10 Nissan 5783
Torah: Leviticus 6:1-8:36 Triennial: Leviticus 6:1-7:10
Haftarah: Malachi 3:4-24

The preparation for the ordination of Aaron and his sons lasted for seven days. For these seven days, as we read in Leviticus 8:33, they were not permitted to leave the Tent of Meeting. It is not until the next parashah that we arrive at the eighth day, on which the ceremony is completed, Aaron and his sons are ordained, and they are permitted to go about their business.

The Torah includes several examples of a seven-day waiting period. These are periods of time observed differently from normal life, periods of time happening outside the rhythm of the day-to-day. We learn from Abraham’s story that circumcision should happen on the eighth day after birth. Similarly, we learn from the story of Leah, Rachel and Jacob of the seven day waiting period for a wedding. We learn from the death of Jacob of the seven days, the shiva, for mourning. As noted by the great scholar of Leviticus, Jacob Milgrom, each of these seven-day periods are times of transition from one stage of existence to another. It is on the eighth day that the new stage of existence is fully realized.

Milgrom points out that the transitional time is often dangerous by virtue of its extraordinariness, its existence outside the bounds of the normal and expected. The seven days of preparation in our parashah are certainly dangerous. We read at the very end of the parashah that the reason Aaron and his sons were not permitted to leave the Tent of Meeting is “so that they not die.” To leave before the transitional time is completed would be to become unmoored, to invite death.

Aaron’s sons also seem to spend much of their seven days of transition naked, which is not how most incoming leaders of a nation would choose to be presented to the public. The ritual that Moses performs during this ritual time proceeds as follows: Moses strips Aaron and his sons and washes them. Moses clothes Aaron. Moses consecrates the altar and all the bits and pieces in it by anointing them with oil. Moses consecrates Aaron by anointing him with oil. Then, at long last, Moses turns back to Aaron’s sons and clothes them. According to the midrash, Vayikra Rabbah 10:8, this ritual was repeated daily for the seven days. Aaron’s sons stood naked and vulnerable while Moses did the anointing. This nakedness is the epitome of transition. They are stripped and washed of their old identities but have not yet been given a new identity. They stand in danger but it is not until next week that the danger will be realized, that two out of Aaron’s four sons will be killed just as they are coming out of the transitional period.

Midrash Tanhuma picks up on this, connecting the seven days of preparation with the deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. The Midrash explains that seven-day waiting periods are actually the seven days of shiva, of mourning. Reading the story of the Flood during the time of Noah, the Midrash notes that God brought the Flood only after seven days. It also notes that God was grieving during this time, reading the verse “And God regretted” as “And God grieved.” Curiously, God mourns the loss of life in the Flood before the Flood has even happened.

Likewise, the Midrash explains, Aaron is set up here to mourn the deaths of his sons for seven days before the deaths even happen. Moses is described as fearful, aware of the likelihood of tragedy, of punishment. Moses is alert to the danger inherent in the transition, waiting for the eighth day, for the transformation of priest into offering. The sons stand, naked, pure, and vulnerable. Two of them will become priests. Two of them will die. Upon their deaths, Aaron will not be able to grieve, to bury them. So the Midrash lets Aaron mourn them in advance, spend seven holy days with his sons before he and they change states.

Every time of transition includes loss. But the idea of the seven day waiting period allows us to appreciate what we are leaving and to prepare for what we are approaching. It is on us to recognize these waiting periods as Moses did, to see them as something holy that allows us to sharpen our focus and achieve our goals.

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Address: 91 Leinster St,
Saint John, NB, E2L 1J2
Phone: (506) 657-4790
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Saint John, NB,  E2L 3T5

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