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Open or Closed

Parshat Tzav

Leviticus 6:1 -8:36

Religion is meant to be mysterious.  It talks about things you can’t see- like God.  Religion tries to in its best case scenario link people through emotional and communal bonds. Religion lifts up ideals of ethics and morality.  Religion tries to bind a group through ritual and to help us express our human frailties and joys and provide guidance to live our daily lives.  Religion in its best sense helps us express our hunger and desires for knowledge, discovery of and our quest for meaning.  For Jews we are part of an ongoing nation that stretches back millennia.  Our ancient journey from Abraham and Sarah to Egypt and the Exodus to the present day is a journey filled with learning and a yearning to understand what God wants of us. This coupled with the pursuit of justice helps the Jewish people continue to thrive even today.

In the ancient world the priests of ancient pagan religions practiced the rituals in secret.  Knowledge of the details of the religion was not transparent but the sacred and secret details were possessed by a small group-the priests.  When there was a largely illiterate population the lack of access to the ways of the religion increased. This allowed the ancient priests in a society to amass power because they had special knowledge of their gods and goddesses and only they could perform certain functions.  The common people simply worked for their gods and goddesses producing crops, livestock and goods that went to support the upper class of the priesthood.

In ancient Israelite religion described in the book of Leviticus and in particular in this week’s Torah portion Tzav we see the revolution of Moses! Unlike the Egyptian religions that were practiced behind closed temple doors, the rituals of the Israelites are written about and performed in public.  Yes there is a special class, the Cohanim and the Levities who become the Temple functionaries. But the rituals of sacrifice are described and available for everyone to know.  The book of Leviticus makes access to the details open knowledge. The mysterious is available to the whole people. Sacrifices are performed before the individual.  And the requirements for specific sacrifices cannot just be made up-but there is an open formula that is available to the whole people.

Parshat Tzav continues the explanation of the sacrifices from last week’s portion, Vayikra.   While today Judaism has evolved from the time of performing sacrifices the fact that Judaism is an open religion speaks volumes.  Yes we have Rabbis but we are not priests that possess some secret knowledge.  Judaism is to be studied openly by everyone.  Study is the equivalent of prayer in Judaism. I think this attests as to just how much we value access by everyone.  Rabbi means teacher.  We don’t have priests anymore who are the only ones to perform certain functions.  In fact in Judaism it doesn’t take a Rabbi to officiate at a Jewish wedding (from a Jewish halachik perspective, the state has other concerns).  Any Jew can be the mesader kiddushin, the officiant.  Unlike Catholicism where only priests can perform certain functions, Judaism is a more open and transparent tradition!

Although reading this week’s Torah portion Tzav and the details of the sacrifices seem irrelevant to our daily lives, we ought to relish the fact that even in Ancient Israelite religion we stood for openness and transparency in the practice of our most sacred moments and ideals.