This week's portion is begun with a reiteration of the different types of sacrifices and the laws that are to be followed in offering sacrifice. In Vayikra, we read the instructions that Moses is commanded to tell to the people of Israel regarding sacrifice. In the first chapter of Tzav, Moses is commanded to direct the instructions on the laws of sacrifice to Aaron and his sons. By the end of chapter seven, we are reading about who gets to eat what and how it is to be cooked and where it can and carlnot be consumed. Finally, after all of this extraordinary detail, we come to a story about the ordination of Aaron and his sons as the High Priests.
The first question that came to my mind when I read this was "Why did we need priests when back in Exodus 19:6 we are told that all of Israel shall be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation"? What was the functiorl ofa special priestly group within this nation of priests' Was this really a high and exalted position commaned by G-d? Or, was this a case ofMoses conferring a nice title and a few perks to some out of work family member who was no longer needed as a spokesperson or miracle performer? Perhaps this was, as an insider at Oak Park Temple revealed, the beginnings ofa family political machine. Rampant nepotism. Moses' brother, Moses' nephews ... This is an intriguing idea, but it would be hard to make a case for this being a great politicaljob. When we go back and look at what was actually involved, we see that the priests had to slaughter beasts, dash blood on the alter, burn the sacrifices and clean out the ashes. They also had to make sure the rules about fat, body parts, cleanliness and uncleanliness were followed. It wasn't really a bad job and you did get a nice public ceremony, a pretty cool uniform, and all of the food was free.
However, being a priest back in those days did have its downside. You knew you'd never have that nice piece of lakefront property and the dwelling that you did have would have to be shared with a very large group of people, not to mention the occasional appearance of the Divine Presence. The penalty for breaking the rules was quite severe. In the next chapter we read that Aaron's two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, took the wrong kind of fire, an alien fire, before Adonai. They paid a big price for this error when fire came out of the sky and consumed them. Perhaps this was, as Judith Antonelli said in her feminist commentary on Torah, a mixture of punishment of Aaron for the whole Golden Calf scandal and reward for all of Aaron's previous good work. He was rewarded in that he occupied a place of possible prestige, but he and his sons also had to do the cooking and cleaning for G-d and the congregation - the first sensitive, new age guys.
This brings me to a question about modern Reform Jews, the laws of sacrifice and the duties of the priesthood. What connection do we have with the story in this weeks Parsha? Well, we no longer have an official priesthood or sacrifice as it is outlined in Tzav. We do however still need people to look after the Temple and make sure some rules are followed. For example, to follow the law of what is clean or unclean to eat in the Temple, we have people to remind us "no shellfish in the Temple Market Day orders!" and "No red wine on the beige carpet in the community hail!"
For the laws regarding the guilt offering we may ask ourselves "have I ordered enough grocery coupons so that I can run into the coupon team captain and not feel guilty?" In regards to the sin offering - well, I'11 leave that to the Yom Kippur appeal.
Some scholars say that the sacrifices in biblical times are now carried out by our words, deeds, and study of Torah. This is where our board of directors, adult education students, and committee members come in. As volunteers, their words and deeds on behalf of the Temple congregation are truly sacrifices. Again, some would see these positions as having some prestige and power, others would see these positions as being tiresome and requiring too much time for too little reward. I think there is some mixture of both of these views inherent in volunteering for work at the Temple. I am sure that our president does not expect to find the right thigh of an ox on his doorstep in return for the many hours he puts in at board meetings. Nor do I think that people loose much sleep over the possibility of fire coming out of the sky and toasting them within their clothes. I do think that people often overlook the fact that the true reward for volunteering at the Temple is not power or prestige. The real reward is community and the friendship that comes from working together toward the common good.
As a congregation, we often wring our hands over how much work needs to be done and ask who is going to do it. We have so many wonderful people with great talent in many different areas. We can assure any individual that volunteer positions carry great reward.
We can tell people "you have this amazing skill and we need you! These are opportunities to meet the other great people in the congregation, so you won't have to do it alone" As a congregant who receives a request for time as a committee member or to work on a special project please remind yourself of the fact that this will be a wonderful opportunity the one in which you feel connected to the community and make a difference in the lives of the people who use the Temple.
As a final note, I confess that I fall down on the job of offering my sacrifice of words of thanksgiving quite often. When I run in the Temple on Sunday morning after dropping the kids off in their religious school classes, I often find myself complaining about where those bagels are and aren't they out yet? I have to get to Torah Study. This is just one example of coming to feel entitled to something. It is so easy to overlook the hard work people have done and complain about the results or lack of results. The reason I am so eager for that bagel is that it is one of my favorite parts of the week. Bagel and Torah study with people I really enjoy and respect. I can enjoy this because people take time out of their Sunday mornings to prepare this. I am also reminded of the recent work of the cantorial search committee. Again, it is easy to wonder why it takes so long, or what is so difficult about this decision. This is another instance where people spent a lot of valuable time working together for the good of the Temple. But, before we take soaked meal cakes or the protuberance of a liver to the many people who carry out the tasks of keeping the Temple functioning let's make the sacrifice of saying thank you. We needed you and you did a great job.