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Tzav 5781: Don't Pass-Over This!

Tzav (Leviticus 6-8 )

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

GOOD MORNING! This upcoming Saturday night, March 27th, after sundown, begins the holiday of Passover. This is an unusual year when Passover eve is Shabbat, so there are several things that we do differently.

Every Year at the Seder, we ask, “Why is this night different than all other nights?”  This year, that question takes on a whole new meaning. Perhaps the right question is;

  "Why is this Passover different than other Passovers?”

First of all, there are the adjustments that we make this year because the day before Passover begins is Shabbat – something that hasn’t occurred since 2008. On Passover eve, Jews worldwide have the custom that the bechor (firstborn sons) fast. This fast is to commemorate the last of the ten plagues – the killing of all the Egyptian firstborns. (This fast is generally abrogated by participating in a Seudat Mitzvah – a meal put on by someone celebrating a mitzvah.)

But because one is prohibited from fasting on Shabbat, that fast is moved to Thursday (this year, March 25th). We generally do not have fasts on Fridays so as not to arrive to Shabbat parched and ravenous.

Additionally, every year we search the house for chametz (leavened products) the night before the Seder, but because this year that would be Friday night, this custom is moved to Thursday night. We, therefore burn the chametz Friday morning, but we don’t say the nullification declaration for any chametz that might have been missed, because on Shabbat most people still eat challah with their Shabbat meals (though because Passover begins Saturday night, all bread must be consumed by the 4th hour of the morning; in Miami that’s a little after 11 am).

Lastly – and this is something that many overlook – since Shabbat has the highest level of holiness we are prohibited from preparing things on Shabbat for anything that takes place after Shabbat. In other words, because the Seder starts after Shabbat we have to be very careful not to prepare anything for the Seder on Shabbat. That means that typical preparations such as setting the table, preparing the Seder plates, putting foods in serving dishes, etc. all must be done after the conclusion of Shabbat.

But in truth, this year the question “Why is this Passover different than all other Passovers?”  has taken on a MUCH greater significance.

If we look back at how much our lives, and indeed our very world, has changed in the past year, we must really take note and count our blessings. At this time last year, we were all in lockdown and “sheltering at home.” This was particularly painful during Passover as, historically, it is the time of year when families join to celebrate together. (My parents, for example, were by themselves for the first time in 56 years of marriage.)

While the past year has brought many challenges, there have also been many positive outcomes. Many men began to participate in some of the housework and thus gained a new appreciation for their wives.

Often, and I know I am generalizing here, women carry most of the burden of the household chores. When men finally do participate – for example, by taking out the garbage – they strut back inside the home, announce their achievement, and look around expectantly, as if someone is supposed to present them with congratulatory balloons and a certificate of achievement. This, of course, leads me to my favorite Passover joke.

Husband: “I know you have a lot of work to do getting the house ready for the Seder, what can I do to help?”
Wife: “If you really want to help you can leave the house for the entire day and don't bother me while I try to clean and get everything ready.”
Husband: “Fine, I will go and find something to do...”
A few hours later husband returns.
Wife: “What are you doing home? I thought we made up that you would be out the entire day?”
Husband: “You didn't actually expect me to help the whole day did you?”

This year, as we make a conscious effort to recognize and appreciate the gains we have made, we should make an extra effort to internalize our gratitude. For my part, I am very much looking forward to, God willing, spending Passover with my family, including my parents and some close (and vaccinated) friends. While things haven’t quite returned to “normal,” we have come a long way since last Passover.

When I thought about this I realized how much this perspective is so particularly appropriate to Passover.

Judaism has a very sharp focus on the past. We celebrate (and mourn) events from two and three thousands of years ago. This is one of the more special aspects of Judaism – it provides perspective. This is particularly relevant on Passover as that is partially what the holiday is about: appreciating where we came from – we were slaves to Pharaoh before being freed by the Almighty and becoming a nation.

But, most importantly, the real value of this perspective is that it forces us to look to the future. In other words, Judaism doesn’t stay rooted in the past – it is always looking forward. As Jews, we take our past experiences, learn from them, and work towards a brighter future. As a nation, our goal has always been the same: the unification of our people, settling in “our” land (Israel), and living in a true moral and just Torah society.

Passover is the anniversary of establishing ourselves as a nation. Thus, it is the time when we remind ourselves where we came from and where we hope to arrive. This is the true meaning of “Next year in Jerusalem!”

In order to achieve this perspective, the overarching theme of the Seder is the retelling of all that the Almighty has done for us as a people. There is a very specific mitzvah in the Torah regarding this:

That you may tell your son and grandson how I toyed with the Egyptians and the miracles that performed in their midst so that you may know that I am Hashem (Exodus 10:2).

This verse is the source of the mitzvah of telling over the story of the Exodus. Yet the construct of the verse seems a little odd; the verse ends “…so that you may know that I am Hashem.” Since the purpose of retelling the story of the exodus is to relate the greatness of the Almighty and all that He has done, the verse should have ended with “so that they will know that I am Hashem.”

One would think that a person would have to internalize the greatness of the Almighty before telling it over to one’s children and grandchildren. So why does the Torah point out that only after telling the story to your sons and grandsons will you know “That I am Hashem”?

The Torah is conveying a very deep message here. We live in a society that celebrates people for no other reason than they are children of famous people. (Even worse, often those famous people are only famous for being famous, not for ever having accomplished anything of substance.) For the most part, people are preoccupied by their lineage – as if they were racehorses. They tend to focus on themselves as if their parentage makes them somehow special.

But they are so preoccupied with themselves and their careers that they often leave the most precious things in their lives – their children – to be raised by nannies and strangers. Aside from the TERRIBLE outcomes that inevitably occur from that sort of upbringing, these parents are totally missing what is perhaps going to be their defining legacy: their children and grandchildren.

What most people fail to grasp is that, in the end, wherever their kids end up, they will end up as well. Time and time again, I have seen that if a person’s children become more religious then the parents will slowly follow suit. Unfortunately, the converse is also true; if one’s children lessen their Torah observance then the parents usually begin to make accommodations and compromises.

When it comes to choosing between family and religion most choose family. After all, it’s only natural to want to be with one’s children and grandchildren.

This is what the Torah is conveying: When you properly educate your children in everything that the Almighty has done for the Jewish people and their descendants, then your children and grandchildren will follow the same path. Where they end up is where you end up. That’s why the verse ends “…so that you may know that I am Hashem.”

**If you have yet to sell your chometz, please click here.

Torah Portion of the Week

Tzav, Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36

This week's Torah portion includes the laws of: Burnt Offerings, Meal Offerings, High Priest's Offerings, Sin Offerings, Guilt Offerings, and Peace Offerings. It concludes with the portions of the Peace Offerings that are allotted to the Priests and the installation ceremony of the Priest for serving in the Sanctuary.

Candle Lighting Times

While you need to check the rearview mirror – your main focus must stay fixed on the windshield.

In Loving Memory

Alisa Flatow

She found favor and goodness in the eyes of
the Almighty and all who knew her.
-- Rosalyn and Stephen M. Flatow


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