Parshat Tzav (2013)

Leviticus 6 – 8

Passover Cleaning: Purity of Home and Character

Punk Rock Seder PlateDuring this Passover (Pesach) season we are all so busy with the tasks of cleaning our houses and removing all of our chametz from our homes, I too feel so rushed by it. I apologize for getting this to you all just after the corresponding Shabbat for this Torah portion, but I hope this lesson finds you all well and enthusiastic for the upcoming holiday.

Pesach is called the Z’man Cheiruteinu – the Season of Our Freedom. We carefully consider each item of our homes and clean out any form of chametz – fermentation grains and leavening, which represent sin and pride in our lives that are holding us back. This is a matter we take very seriously, this act of spring cleaning and carefully consideration of even the minor things, which mirrors the type of ethical and spiritual checking that should be taking place in our personality as well.

Only after we perform all this do we move on to enjoying a happy and kosher Passover, at a joyful table filled with food items on the Seder plate that will continue to drive home other symbolism through our sense of taste. After working ourselves like slaves through the cleaning process, we emerge from it able to enjoy the taste of freedom on Passover table.

I want us to try to quickly look at this matter of “taste,” continuing with our topic from a previous study relating to taste and kashrut (see Parshat Tzav 2011). They are major issues that come into play in this weeks parsha, and deserve a very good review. I will try not to keep us too long because I know how much work everyone is putting into kashering their homes. But I think this lesson has some interesting points that help put this whole process into perspective for us, and maybe will even lend us some encouragement.

As we discussed last week there are many forms of offerings given by our ancestors, some of them were not just complete incinerations of the given donations, some of them were eaten. Even of the sin-offerings priests ate, so we see they were not complete holocausts and incinerations without benefit. (see Parshat Vayikra 2013 )

In regard to this we are taught in this parsha how to protect the holiness of these offerings, they were to be eaten in a sacred place and in an appropriate (kasher/kosher) fashion. The issue of sacredness and purity is going to be a major topic going through out the rest of Leviticus, what items and areas were considered sacred, and also what made one ritually pure to engage in public worship is a major theme of this entire book. Often times the way the sacrifices were done and who could partake in the eating had to do with issue of ritual purity, if one was clear both organically (health related) and morally to eat of the sacred items. That is why it is so important for us to learn about ritual purity through out this book of Leviticus.

In this parsha we read a statement related to the sacrifices and their sacredness, after stating that the priests are to eat them as a most holy item in the enclosure of the Courtyard of the Tabernacle. We are further informed concerning this:

“Anything that touches its flesh

shall become holy,

and if any of its blood is sprinkled on a garment,

[the spot] upon which it has been sprinkled

you shall wash in a holy place.

An earthenware vessel in which it is cooked

shall be broken,

but if it is cooked in a copper vessel,

it shall be purged and rinsed with water.”

| Kol asher-yiga bivsarah

| yikdash

| va’asher yizeh midamah al-habeged

| asher yizeh aleiha

| techabes bemakom kadosh.

| Uchli-cheres asher tevushal-bo

| yishaver

| ve’im-bichli nechoshet

| bushalah umorak veshutaf bamayim.

Leviticus 6:20-21

Anyone who is traditionally observant of Judaism cannot help but almost be distracted by this statement during our Passover cleaning. It appears to be talking about how to make vessels kosher. Though we can gain some good information regarding that from this section as helpful reminders of the kashering process, this is not actually what the text is really about.

In this parsha we are taught about the transference of sacredness through taste, that the essence of something is carried by the taste. Because of this anything that touches the hot altar absorbs the taste of that which is upon it and consequently becomes sacred too. (see Parshat Tzav 2011) The item that has been inadvertently consecrated therefore needs to be treated with respect as well. Every part of the offerings and their byproducts needed to be treated with reverences, including the remaining ashes (see Exodus 6:4, the first portion of this parsha) and the left-overs. It is this last point that is being raised now at this time.

This point is made by the Torah, by drawing our attention to a garment; something that isn’t a vessel at all. The only thing that makes it fit into this lineup is that it becomes splattered with remnants of the sacrifices, specifically with blood. Though our clause begins by talking about the meat (basar), in the instance of the garment it alternates to talk about the blood instead. Unlike the pots that can have the meat seemingly easily dumped out, the blood absorbs into the garment and it must be washed out completely before the garment can be removed from the holy courtyard.

This all seems to make sense to a lot of people, until we look at the one example sandwiched in between the examples of the completely laundered garment and of a copper pot that can be throughly washed out with water; in contrast we are curiously told that the earthen vessel must be smashed. Why does it tell us to do this?

The answer might not be apparent to many people, unless one has much experience with cooking and kashrut. Though a garment can possibly be washed out and spot cleaned as recommended, and a metal pot can be washed until there is no blood or fats remaining in it, the same cannot be said for earthenware. We are talking essentially about terracotta, which are porous and absorbent dry pots. Because of their porousness the fats and blood would easily absorb into these clay pots and saturate them, being released along with their flavor in any subsequent use. For this reason it is forbidden to reuse these earthen pots and they must therefore be smashed. Again, this is unlike the metal pots that have no crack or unseen holes in which to retain remnants of the sacred offerings and thus can be reused when clean.

This might not be immediately apparent to many people, most people don’t heavily scrutinize their food or their cookware. I am deeply reminded of this during this season, as my friends watch me rush in every direction cleaning and inspecting every little thing for Pesach. Like most people, I’m much more mindful and careful of what I have in my home and on my plate during the eights days of the holiday. Many of my friends find it odd, not because they are anti-religious but because they are so out of touch with their own food. People who can’t understand basic food production are usually more clueless when it comes to their dishes, it’s just too far removed from them.

Keilim: Cracked Earthenware, showing where food and potential chametz is hiding, deep into its material.

Cracked earthenware, showing where food and potential chametz is hiding, deep into its material.

So they stand by and watching me wash glasses, dunk pitchers, and boiling metal items to sterility. They look quizzical as I pack away my normal porcelain tableware, until I call them over to look at the undersides and insides of my vessels. Though most are glazed to keep from absorbing the food into them, you can see places where the protective coat didn’t take or where it’s cracked in time, some revealing deep stains of wine and spices inside the clay and porcelain body. I point out that what’s been festering there is something I’m avoiding with all my might during this holiday, symbolic of my clearing out of my old and sour character traits during this season of liberation. All of this is in aid of eight days in order to get in touch with a more purposeful existence and unadulterated sense of being.

Though this parsha is not necessarily about instructing us regarding kashrut but actually talking about respecting that which is sanctified, it does reveal to us the limitations of kashrut upon vessels in passing. Being raised during this season it is actually a very helpful reminder of the rules of kashering your kitchen, something we all need to understand to survive this season. But it is my hope that as we read this we don’t just skim over it, matrixing it into our current holiday routine, and failing to look at the bigger picture of what this section of Torah is about.

I also hope that as we inspect our possessions for the Passover holiday, that we don’t just assume anything about our emotional holdings anymore than we should about our general belongings; mindful that just because something looks firm and pure, sometimes the true nature is very different under close inspection. I would hope that just as throughly as we clean our homes we would also engage in a matching inspection of our own character traits, trying to find the cracks in our personality and ethics. Just like with old dishes, we need to look at old habits and attitudes. We need to look at them each and ask ourselves what can be cleaned up and reused, and which just need to be broken.

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