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Parashat Tzav

March 26, 2021
13 Nisan 5781
Parashat Tzav
Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36

Dear Friends,

As we complete our final preparations for Passover -- navigating the different ways in which we will observe the holiday this year -- we are also in the midst of a journey through the unknown territory. It’s been quite a year, and as many have been vaccinated, many have not been vaccinated. 

It has been a year of loss and a year of new perspectives, a year of grief and of revelation. It has also been a year of resilience, finding new ways of being in the world and of understanding the world. The pain of this year is real; this holiday of Pesach/Passover provides us with a path through that pain. Our first step is to acknowledge where we find ourselves.

If you are feeling a little shell-shocked by this year, you are well within your rights. The question facing us is much the same that the Mixed Multitude faced as they journeyed through the wilderness. As is my annual tradition, I quote Michael Walzer: “Standing on the parted shores, we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot; that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt; that there is a better place, a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness. That there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.” If his words did not resonate in the past, they certainly do at this moment.

We are in a different kind of wilderness in this moment. We are at an inflection point. What we do next really matters. If we say that the hate and injustice around us is not our problem (after all, “I haven’t done anything wrong”), then the othering of groups within our society will continue. But if we stop and realize that what we are confronting is structural injustice and that it has been used in its various guises to keep from joining together, then it is potent and important to walk through this wilderness together. As we read in the Torah about the people journeying together, this is not an easy task. It was not for them and it is not for us.

This week we prepared for Passover by gathering the wisdom and insights of our Tehillah Hebrew School students. As usual, they imparted real wisdom and a different way of looking at things. This year, we were taught that there is value in seeing the karpas differently. As we dip the parsley into the salt water, let us look beyond the tears of the slaves and take a moment and express a moment of gratitude to all of those front-line workers who kept us safe throughout the pandemic with their hard work. Have you ever stopped and reflected on the fact that there are two types of bitter herbs on the Seder Plate? One of our students taught us that the more bitter of the two (fresh horseradish for most of you) represented the pain, degradation, and poverty of being slaves over along period of time, while the less bitter herb (be it romaine lettuce or the greens on top of the horseradish root) represented the suffering of the Egyptians through the Ten Plagues. 

Then there is the orange on the Seder Plate, a recent innovation -- one that confirms that the seder is not a static ritual. We invite you to click here for a quick history of this innovation.

Ultimately, the orange is a symbol of inclusion, originally for members of the LGBTQ+ community, but a symbol that continues to expand in meaning as we grow in our understanding and acceptance that we are a diverse community. The orange is a sign of acceptance and inclusivity that points out that the journey to the seder is different for each of us.

Our task, especially in this most challenging time, is to throw open the door and welcome Elijah. To quote Rabbi David Wolpe: “How blessed it will be when we can open our door for Elijah, and not be afraid.” When we open our doors we welcome the world in.

Tehillah is currently embarking on just such a year-long journey with the guidance of Keshet, the key organization working for LGBTQ+ equality in Jewish life. We have been invited to be part of a cohort of Jewish organizations, primarily synagogues, as we affirm our identity as an inclusive, welcoming community and expand what that means going forward.

Join us on this journey as we lay aside fear, remember those we loved, and work together to create a world where lovingkindness has real agency in every sphere.

Wishing you a fulfilling and sweet Passover journey.

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, April 13 2021 1 Iyyar 5781