Tetsavveh – on service, on spiritual leaders, on sacrifice

A continuation from Terumah, which outlines how the space of the tabernacle must be set up, this parshah talks about how the Priests (beginning with Aaron) are to be dressed and anointed. It then outlines the sacrifices at the temple – what they are and how they must be carried out. This passage reflects the power of the Priests during the time of the Temple in Jerusalem. Because worship relied on the Priests and the offerings made to them, religious life was centralized. Being a Priest was an incredibly important and powerful role – and all this free food from the sacrifices made being a Priest a great gig. The Priests were separate from the rest of the community; they were a set apart. After the temples were destroyed we began to mark religious customs in smaller decentralized places of worship and, importantly, in the home. This meant that Judaism became portable; it did not rely on a central temple. It also meant that women had a greater role to play because they were/are typically the ones who controlled the private domain of the home. 

This passage makes us consider the role of leadership. We no longer look to Priests to guide us in our spiritual practices. Some of us do look to Rabbis (who after the destruction of the temples eclipse Priests as the most important spiritual and community leaders. They became the main access point to God and also emerged as the learned ones in the community who,therefore , became the ones set apart from the people). Do we need external leaders to show us how to practice our Judaism? Do we need teachers to guide us and shed light on the aspects of our tradition that may continue to inspire us today? For many of us we do look to leadership. A good rabbi (teacher) can inspire us, ignite our curiosoty, push us in our thinking, and point us in the direction of ideas and sources we may not know. Leadership matters. Many of us also, however, look within ourselves. We have the tools to educate ourselves about important Jewish texts, history, and culture. We value community, and any community relies on leadership of some kind of other – even if it is grassroots leadership from “below” – but we also value the ability to find meaning for ourselves.  

This parshah also invites us to think about sacrifice. Many of us do not lament that animal sacrifice disappeared with the temples. But the idea of sacrifice is an interesting one. Too many of us lead lives in which we are unwilling to make sacrifices – even for the benefit of those we love. We are a self-interested society; but, it is worth thinking about what we lose when we prioritize only ourselves above all others. There is a fine line between self-love/self-care and selfishness. Those who prioritize themselves last are also not doing themselves or their loved ones a favour; martyrdom doesn’t really serve anyone. But neither does self-interest above all else. We are asked to make all kinds of sacrifices in our lives. We make a financial sacrifice when we pursue an education, although we see it as an investment in our future. We make sacrifices of our personal freedom when we decide to take on the awesome responsibility of parenting, although children enrich our lives in immeasurable ways. We make sacrifices for partners and friends who, when they need something of us that conflicts with our own wishes or needs, may be more important at that moment. These sacrifices all hopefully pay off. I make sacrifices for my partner, but trust he would/will do the same for me. When we sacrifice for our children it is because our love for them feeds us, and we want them to be as full and happy as possible. But there are sacrifices we might have to make that do not benefit us directly. People who fight for just causes to which they are committed, people who donate organs, people who risk their own lives to save the lives of others after emergencies or disasters, there are true heroes in the world who understand the beauty of sacrifice. All of us are on a path to find balance in our lives. How much and what are we prepared to sacrifice in order to be the best versions of ourselves?  

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