By Shaindle Schmuckler | email@example.com
Is it possible for a 13-year-old to share with us know-it-all adults words of wisdom, spirituality and learning? I say yes.
What follows is the d’var Torah delivered by bar mitzvah Adin for Parashat Tzav.
A long, long time ago, way, way, across the ocean, far, far from here, during the time of the Torah, sacrifices were made using lambs, goats or sheep. Yes, I’m talking about MEAT. No offense to you vegetarians out there, but it is very fitting that this week’s Torah portion is about sacrifices and MEAT because I am a card-carrying carnivore. When I was 2 years old, my parents introduced me to tofu. Like many children, I was skeptical. But my parents only had to say one word to get me to try tofu, the one word that always made me smile: MEAT. They asked me, “Adin, would you like to try some tofu MEAT?” The rest is history: To this day, I eat tofu as if it were meat.
Just in case some of you were talking to a neighbor during my Torah reading, this week’s Torah portion is called Tzav. The word tzav means decree or command, from the same root as the word mitzvah, as in bar mitzvah. Parashat Tzav is about the commandment of performing sacrifices. To be more specific, who eats and performs the offering, what is eaten from the sacrifice, where the sacrifice is performed, and how sacrifices were performed during the times of the Mishkan (also known as the Tabernacle).
The Mishkan was the central tent of meeting while the Jews were wandering in the desert. During the time of the Mishkan and the Temple in Jerusalem, sacrifice was the main form of worship. At this time, Jews did not pray in synagogues because they had not been invented yet. The sacrifices at the Temple were like barbecues.
The kohanim (also known as priests) would burn the offering on the altar/grill, and both the kohanim and the family who brought the offering would eat it together, leaving a small portion for G-d (who I will call HaShem). While this was going on, the family would thank HaShem for their blessings that year.
You might be thinking, “What was the meaning of the sacrifices?” Well, the meaning of the sacrifices was to cleanse the human or the family of their wrongdoings that year. It was kind of like taking a bath. Just like we have to clean our bodies, we have to clean our souls.
These days we make “sacrifices” in order to cleanse our souls just like in times of the Torah, but luckily what we actually sacrifice these days is much different! Today we sacrifice our time by helping others, or we offer up our resources to help others. These sacrifices are also mitzvot, or commandments, but they are in the form of good deeds instead of animal offerings.
The famous Jewish storyteller Isaac Bashevis Singer was once asked why he was vegetarian. He answered, “Because it’s good for the animals.” Likewise, the way we do mitzvot and sacrifices these days is better for the animals.
Back to the MEAT. Parashat Tzav is all about commandments, sacrifices and food. Food is a communal thing. People gather together for meals every night. Food brings us together. Most people look forward to holidays because they are excited about the special foods that we eat. Every religion, every culture has a special type of food or special customs for making food or eating food. Whole communities get together just to have one meal. This is just like sacrificing. The entire Jewish people gathered into the Temple on certain holy days, such as Rosh Hashanah, just to sacrifice one animal and have one meal.
The kohanim were the organizers of the sacrifices. They were the hosts of the barbecue. The only way to have the sacrifices was with the kohanim. Tzav is a book of rituals for the kohanim. This parashat is the guidelines for sacrificing. This is where the idea of a barbecue came from. The Jews were the first people to have barbecues. But back in the Temple times, the barbecue was formal. So much for that now. The most formal barbecue I have ever been to was one where some people did not get food on their shirts.
So what did I learn from Parashat Tzav? I learned three big ideas.
One is that sacrifice has always been a major part of Jewish life. (It used to be meat that was sacrificed, but now we sacrifice our time to good deeds to feel closer to G-d and spiritually clean.)
The second big idea is the importance of the role of the community organizers. It used to be the priests who were the organizers, but now any person with inspiration can organize fundraisers, food drives and other tzedakah projects. I learned how important the kohanim were.
The third big idea is the idea that food brings us together. It used to be the sacrificing of animals that brought Jews together to pray and eat at the kohanim’s barbecue, but now we have backyard barbecues. We invite friends and family of all religions to gather for a potluck. This gathering for food and prayer also happens at bar mitzvahs. Hmmm.
I have a serious question to ask you all. How many of you came here just for the food? Well, I certainly did! All of this studying for one meal.