Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosil@MNSi.net

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Vayikra (Leviticus) 6:1 - 8:36


Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1-22
Haftorah - Ezekiel 36:16-38

The Shabbat after Purim is called Shabbat Parah (the Shabbat of the Red Heifer), therefore we remove two Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) from the Ark. First we read seven Aliyot from this week's Parsha Tzav, and the final Aliyah (Maftir) is read from the book of Bamidbar 19:1-22, from the second scroll. The reading of this Maftir and Haftorah were chosen for this time of the year so that Jews could purify themselves before bringing the Pascal sacrifice at the Passover pilgrimage.


This week's Torah portion, Tzav, deals primarily with the role of the Kohen - the priest, in the performance of the sacrifices. Clearly, the verses indicate that the Kohanim - the priests are indispensable in the offering of both voluntary and obligatory sacrifices.

This concept of reliance on another human being in our relationship to the Almighty seems somewhat foreign to most of us. For, after all, we are used to the "Jewish ideal" of each person standing before his Maker, responsible and answering only for himself. We have been brought up to believe that personally or individually, we must relate directly to Hashem.

In practice at least, this necessity of and reliance on others doesn't seem to exist at all. There is no practice in Judaism now that requires the services of a rabbi or anyone else if the individual himself is knowledgeable and able. Yet, it seems with the sacrifices, and if they are seen as the model, then, in general, that the authentically Jewish concept of a relationship with G-d requires more than the individual himself.

Actually, this idea of absolute self-reliance and "each Jew for himself" before Hashem is a misconception. To fulfill our obligations as Jews, we not only need other Jews - we need all other Jews. The Mishna (Tractate Rosh Hashanah, at the end of chapter three) declares: "This is the general rule: all who are not obligated in a Mitzvah cannot perform it on behalf of the community." Specifically, the Mishna is discussing the Baal Tokea (the one who blows the Shofar on behalf of the congregation). If the one blowing the Shofar has no obligation, for example, if he is a non-Jew, then he may not blow the Shofar for the congregation to enable them to fulfill their obligation to hear the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.

The enabler must be similarly obligated or the others cannot fulfill their obligation. As the Mishna indicates, "This is the general rule." It applies, as well, to other obligations besides Shofar. There are other Mitzvot that one may perform for others. For example, one can recite a blessing and another may fulfill his obligation by hearing the blessing and responding "Amen." In every case, the one performing the act must be equally obligated in the Mitzvah.

But what happens if the one performing the Mitzvah had his own obligation but has already fulfilled it? If he has already blown or heard the Shofar previously; for if he has already recited the blessing, technically speaking, he is no longer obligated. He has finished his Mitzvah. The Talmud, commenting on our Mishna (Rosh Hashanah 29a) declares in the name of Ahava, the son of Rav Zeira: "In all blessings, even one that has already fulfilled his obligation may enable another..." Thus, a Jew who was obligated to perform the act may enable another even though he has completed his obligation, while a non-Jew who has no obligation may not. You might ask: "Why not? What's the difference?"

The answer is very simple - but revolutionary. Even though the Jew has already performed his Mitzvah and ostensibly is no longer obligated, he may still enable others because his Mitzvah is not complete. There is a mutual responsibility of one Jew for another Jew, and, in fact, one Jew for all Jews. If there exists another Jew anywhere who has not performed his own Mitzvah, the fulfillment of the Mitzvah by any and all other Jews remains incomplete. Thus the enabler is still "obligated." This mutuality applies across the board, in every obligation and mitzvah that Jews have.

When I put on Tefillin (phylacteries), or pray, eat Matzah, or observe the Shabbat, if there is a fellow Jew who neglects these Mitzvot, my Mitzvah is incomplete; I'm still obligated.

In other words, more succinctly put, no Jew can stand before G-d alone. We are all inextricably and mutually bound together in our relationship to the Almighty. And if one Jew is lacking, we are all lacking. When other Jews are in pain or peril; when they must go without, we must recognize that their wanting represents and reflects a deficiency within each of us. So that it is not each man on his own. But it must be, needs to be, all of us together.

This theme of unity and responsibility is reflected in the ritual of the Red Heifer which forms the special Maftir of today. The perplexing feature of the ashes of the Red Heifer - that the mixture of ashes and water with the hyssop thread and cedar stick, purifies the impure and defiles the pure, only indicates a sense of interconnectedness. The ritual can only be effective if it influences the person who officiates.

The Kohen is significantly affected by the rite, to the point that he assumes an element of the impurity that he has eradicated in the other person. There is a lasting piece of the experience. It does not happen in a vacuum, in a sterile field, but overflows, and even contaminates (in a positive sense) the officiating Kohen. It also serves as a lasting reminder that we cannot exist effectively as a community if we are divorced from each other, so that we do not allow ourselves to feel, or see someone else's problems and afflictions.

This interpersonal relationship does not end with the defiled Jew and the priest but it is an essential ingredient in a wholesome connection to our Maker, the Master of the Universe who so wants a relationship with us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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