Sunday, March 23, 2008


Weekly Parsha Blogging: Tzav

[ Insert standard issue sermon about the Ner Tamid here, complete with contrasts to the strange fire]
[ Insert standard issue sermon about the Priests having to sweep the ashes here ]

Normally in Leviticus focusing on the Prophetic reading over the dry and dull details of the sacrificial cult or the laws of tzaria or what have you is, well, maybe a bit of a cop-out. But this week (especially this last week in particular -- with a certain person named Jeremiah being in the news ... and, considering what the Book of Jeremiah has to say, as NPR points out, how appropriate is his first name), there is good reason to consider the Prophetic reading, which seems to contradict the Torah: the Torah talks of sacrifices while Jeremiah maintains Hashem said "what's this sacrifice business about? who told you to do that?".

So is there a contradiction here? How does one harmonize the Torah and Haftarah portions? Do we dismiss this as historical* (Jeremiah being of the Deuteronomic school and associated with the Musite Priests while Leviticus is the Priestly Code of the Aaronide Priests)? Do we try to harmonize them and extract a moral lesson from the harmonization? Even if we do take the historical approach -- with whom should we, as moderns, be more comfortable? The Deuteronomaic tradition? The Priestly tradition?

For those who say the former, do we really think so? Is the Priestly tradition really what we think it is? Is it really the sort of purity obsessed wingnutism we call "Levitical"? Wasn't, for example, the message that the Christians ascribe to Jesus, really part of the Priestly tradition wherein it is the Priests who are on the front lines, not of ensuring purity only, but of actually meeting the leper, the impure, where they are, and bringing them back into society as pure people?

OTOH, we tend to view the Prophets as being kinda lovey-dovey. But isn't Jeremiah Wright aptly named? How would we respond to a Jeremiah or Isaiah (any one of them) today? Would we find their insistance on public morality to be backward? Would we say that they were unpatriotic for what they would say about our country? Would we say that Jeremiah and Isaiah were self-hating Jews for what they said about Israel?

When Jeremiah says that Hashem doesn't want sacrifices -- he might not be saying the Hashem prefers our "modern" ways of praying to what really could sometimes be a real kewl BBQ. What would Hashem prefer, according to Jeremiah? For what would God bless us? And for what would God damn us?

And are we even comfortable considering either possibility? And I say comfortable with either possibility remembering the words of Tevye: "we know we're Your chosen people ... but couldn't You choose someone else for a change". Remember what Isaiah said in the song of the suffering servant.

* Speaking of which, I just read an interesting book called The Genesis of Justice, by A. Dershowitz. Now, no matter what you think of him, this is a good book -- people like me tend to dismiss some of the "injustices" of Genesis as being an artifact of J's democratic sympathies and wanting to, while writing a history of her people, sneak in a bit of bias toward even her people's enemies such as Edom -- together with having sometimes contradictory materials from the E source mixed in. But Prof. Dershowitz makes the larger point that Genesis wants to tell us, in terms of God's own "evolution" (or the evolution of our idea of God), about how our notions of justice evolve. While many other religious works seek to tell us what Justice is -- Genesis makes us hungry to pursue Justice (as commanded later) by showing us what Injustice is.

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