What’s the difference between blood and a BMW? Confused? Well, Parshat Tzav answers that question. You may be asking: what kind of Bible have you been reading, the Top Gear Torah? Well, even though the Torah makes no specific reference to cars (which it should, because that would be awesome), delving into the text reveals some enlightening information. Let’s take a look.
Parshat Tzav consists of God telling Moses how to prepare Aaron and his sons to become the Kohenim. God tells Moses the rules about the altar, preparations for sacrifices, and the different types of sacrifices. After God finishes instructing Moses, Moses initiates Aaron and his sons by giving them a ceremonial tunic, teaching them the sacrifices, and anointing them in blood and oil.
Now, many of you may be thinking: blood? Ewww! Well, that’s right: in order to be prepared for sacrifice, not only must the Kohenim be first covered in the blood of the slaughtered animal, but they must sprinkle blood around the sacrifice-site and carry the ashes of the animal into a site outside of the camp. It’s all about cleanliness. Yes, bathing yourself in blood may seem rather “unclean,” but in ancient society, cleanliness meant something far more important than being immaculate. Cleanliness of the soul, ritual purity, was valued over bodily cleanliness. This is still apparent in Jewish tradition today. During Netilat Yadaim, you “wash” your hands with water but do not use soap. You’re not supposed to clean your hands of germs, but rather, ritually purify yourself to be prepared for various ceremonies considered holy. This is obviously far different from society today. Within our school alone are Purell dispensers at every corner. We are expected to wash our hands when going to the bathroom. We must shampoo our hair when showering. Every bit of “cleanliness” today focuses on cleaning the body rather than cleaning the soul. It is less about our Self and more about our self-image. This raises an important point: a factor of the Self is internal purity. Even through the change in dynamic of hand-washing, the change from taking care of our internal Self to taking care of our external Self is apparent.
There’s some part of us that wrestles around with our feelings of what it is that is distasteful to us and what is tasteful. What’s “Yuck!” versus what’s “Wow!”? Societal dynamics have changed greatly since the time of Moses. We’ve become more conscious of our mortality and short amount of time on this Earth, so we fill that time with people and objects that we believe will fulfill ourselves and make us “complete,” but actually drive us away from what does fulfill the Self. Our Self is who we are. It is our hopes and dreams, our desires and talents, our personality and focal point of understanding. The Self encapsulates everything we are and everything we will become. However, we are focusing less on our Self and more on how others perceive us. With the simple actions of, for example, wearing “fashionable” clothing or driving an expensive car, we are conforming to how society wants us to act rather than what we ourselves specifically desire. We are taking care of the external while not focusing on the internal, doing what pleases others instead of ourselves. Ask yourself: how are we supposed to get back to finding our Self? The answer is within the text. The various steps and types of sacrifices all hint at how to conduct your life to keep the Self sustained.
Kohenim must wear linen over their own “flesh,” signifying the Self must be protected from external intrusion. Ashes, after the sacrifice is burnt, must be moved outside of the camp, showing how even in death, the manifestation of our Self is considered holy. The fire of the altar must always remain lit, meaning the fire within ourselves, our passions and spark of creativity, must remain alight. The Kohen who eats the Asham Offering dashes blood around the slaughter-site, signifying the importance of the life-force of the once-living creature, reminding ourselves of our mortality. The Hamat Offering is eaten by the Kohen who brought it and some blood is sprinkled onto a piece of clothing, which shows the focus on life and carrying with us the burdens of the consequences of our actions. The Grain Offering is portioned off so the Kohenim can all eat of it, recognizing the importance of friendship and relationships with others. The Near Offering is burnt completely, representing how we must sometimes let go of something when the time comes. The Shalom Offering is split in half, with one half given to the Kohenim to eat, the other burnt upon the altar, showing the necessity of sharing and following rules at times. Finally, the anointing of the blood represents recognizing the value of life and never forgetting that it is within our power to take lives, showing how important our actions can be.
Now, on one level, I may just be reading too far into an arcane text and trying to grasp at meaning that isn’t there; that’s highly likely and I wouldn’t be lying if you asked me if that’s what I did. But, on another level – there is meaning to be gleaned through the process – that the importance of the Self is truly imperative. We are focusing less on what may make us happy and instead on what society says will make us happy. If we continue to go down this path, the Self may be forever lost behind a myriad of Sephora advertisements and Audi A4s. To cultivate the Self, by recognizing the consequences of our actions, using wisdom to discern what is right and wrong, and by staying true to your own beliefs, you may find your Self once again. Find your passion and do what makes you, you, what fulfills you and awakens your Self. Now let me ask you again: what is the difference between blood and BMWs?