Saturday, March 15, 2014
25th Torah portion, 2nd in Leviticus
Tzav 6:1-8:36 (97 verses)
The five sacrifices that the priests are to perform are described. Limitations on the consumption of meat are delineated. Moses consecrates Aaron and his sons as priests, and the preparations of the Mishkan as a holy place are given.
The sacrificial rituals of our ancient ancestors and the various types of actual sacrifices have been a way of linking us with God by asking us to share what we possess with God. Ours is a God whose reality is intimately bound up with us, the people of Israel, whose Torah is an instruction on how we are to live a God-filled existence. Thus offering sacrifices was a method of connecting us in an intimate and physical way with this God who is unseen. But having to share one’s crops or the best of one’s herd doesn’t come easily or naturally. Hence, perhaps doing these acts must be “commanded.”
On Erev Shabbat (and other times), our tradition commands that we give tzedakah in the form of money placed into a tzedakah box. Couldn’t we have put that money to personal use? Couldn’t we have used it to buy the new CD we want or pay for a much-needed vacation? Who doesn’t have such a list?! This is precisely why giving and sharing what we have is not an option, or a nice altruistic suggestion, or a “random act of kindness.” It is, rather, as this week’s parashah reminds us, a mitzvah, “a command.” By giving tzedakah, monetary charity, Jews recognize the good that God has given to them. Some scholars see charitable donation as a replacement for animal sacrifice in Jewish life in that it is a way to show thanks to and ask forgiveness from God. Contributing toward the welfare of others is a central and fulfilling part of one’s Jewish identity and like the animal sacrifices described in Leviticus, brings one closer to God. That is to say, bringing you closer to God is to look beyond your personal desires and view the relieving of suffering and the satisfying of the needs of others in the world, your personal responsibility.
There’s actually one higher level of tzedakah: being sensitive to someone before they’re in trouble. As the Sages interpret Leviticus 25:35: It takes one person to support something before it falls, but after it falls, even five people may not be able to lift it.
1. Can you think of five reasons for giving tzedakah?
2. Do you think that people are naturally selfish, or do you think that there is such a trait as a “natural” inclination to share with others?
3. Who are three people who are about to fall? Can you think of three ways to help each of them?
When are you supposed to give tzedakah? Certainly before candle lighting on Shabbat. One should give in connection to a life cycle celebration: birth, birthday, b’nei mitzvah, wedding, in memory of someone who has recently died or yahrtzeit. These events involve you, your family or personal friends, and the act of tzedakah connects you to God’s command to be kind and generous to your fellow neighbor.
Also, it is traditional to give tzedakah to someone traveling to the Holy Land, to be given to someone in need there. Thank you to those who gave our group money to give to others while we are in Israel. See you next week.