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Parashat Tzav

March 18, 2022
15 Adar II 5782
Parashat Tzav
Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36

Dear Friends,

Celebrating Purim is always a highlight for me. It brings together so many different elements against the frame of what appears at first glance to be the telling of a farcical tale. But then, farce always has truthful underpinnings, giving us the opportunity to see ourselves and laugh until the tears of recognition appear.

Two nights ago, we were together again in person, gathering as a community to hear the story once more and to recognize the moment in which we were telling the tale.  We found the joy in the retelling even as we acknowledged the times in which we live.

Purim and its archetypal characters seemed more appropriate to this moment than I can ever remember. It is a story filled with those who act and those who are incapable of acting, regardless of their position in society.

We have a king who has not the slightest idea of what it means to be a responsible leader. He is a man whose whims guide his actions and gives away his power one moment and retrieves it the next. We are left to wonder how long he will be able to hold on to power and how long his empire will last. We could talk about Haman and modern parallels, but it is the more positive energy of the story that we need to address.

There are three extremely powerful women in this story. Zeresh, Haman's wife, understands the tenuous nature of power. Like her or not, she is a loyal and smart companion. Vashti challenges male authority directly. Esther is often depicted as demure, but is so much more.

Before looking at Esther more closely, let us see what we can learn from Mordechai. Some might call Mordechai paranoid. However, calling him vigilant to what is happening around him may be more accurate. He is not someone who is lulled into a false sense of security. He is ever alert and aware. This is not an easy position to be in. It takes energy to pay attention to the moment. It speaks to our tradition of blessing the moment in which we find ourselves, giving us the courage to move forward.

Then there is Esther, who inspires me every year, but this year most of all. She finds herself in a frightening situation that even Mordechai does not fully understand. She is part of a harem. Even though she is the first among the women, she knows that, should the whims of the king shift, banishment or death awaits her, even before the edict against the Jews is issued. All of these makes Esther’s actions a model for all of us. 

We pray for Mordechai's vigilance, but it is Esther who each of us has the capacity to emulate. It is Esther who, when faced with extreme danger and difficulty, understands that going it totally alone is not an option.  Yes, she will face the king by herself, but first she creates a community response acknowledging that this is not her journey alone. When faced with difficult and dangerous situations, we are all strengthened when we have a community behind us. How does she do this? She asks for help. Asking is not easy; it exposes our vulnerability. But if we are like Esther, we will be able to go forward knowing that there are those who have our back.

Community, whether it be your chosen family, your family, your friends, and/oror your religious community, is what we need in order to go forward.

In this week’s Torah portion, as Aaron and his sons are consecrated as priests and are chosen for a sacred responsibility, so too are we chosen to take on sacred responsibility.

Even as we weep for the people of Ukraine, our souls are heartened by the courage not only of their leader, but of countless individuals from around the world who are stepping forward to offer aid and assistance.

In closing, I share these words from Rabbi Lester Bronstein who has just returned from Poland with a delegation of 18 rabbis.

“We saw busses from Germany and Scandinavia, motors running and at the ready to whisk people away to their countries. We saw relief teams ready to advise and direct the refugees to one destination or another. We saw Polish citizens who had simply driven to the border, invited anonymous refugees into their cars, and taken them into their own homes.

"There among the throngs of goodwill givers, we saw our Jews. We spoke with Jews from the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), from Israeli NGOs like NATAN and Hatzoloh, from the JCCs of Cracow and Warsaw, from the Hotel Ilan in Lublin (formerly the esteemed Yeshiva Chochmey Lublin) and the president and various rabbis of the reconstituted Jewish communities across Poland. We spoke with old and young Jews. We spoke with Jews who were simply leading their lives and running their businesses and organizations until two weeks ago, and who turned on a dime to become full-time relief givers.

"In Przemysl, a mile from the border, we walked through a quickly converted shopping mall, now lined with thousands of cots, more hot food booths, a children’s play area, and NATAN’s makeshift infirmary (in a converted motorcycle parts store!), run by volunteer physicians from Hadassah Hospital. Selfless, heroic Jews all.

"In every case, these fellow Jews spoke with pride about this being “our time.” Our time to step up and reboot history. Our time to respond to the memory of our own dark fate in Poland with the Torah’s proper response: Do not stand idly by. Love your neighbor as yourself. Remember that you were strangers.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sun, December 4 2022 10 Kislev 5783