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Peter J. Rubinstein
Parashat Tzav

Peter J. Rubinstein  |  March 30, 2012

So this is Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath. It’s the Sabbath that always every year precedes the onset of Pesach. But there’s a unique irony in that the Torah reading for this week, Tzav, is really not one that in any way deals with great themes of redemption or history; in fact, it’s a Torah reading about sacrifices and quite explicit in the gory details of those sacrifices: the dismemberment of animals, the sprinkling of blood.  In fact, it’s a portion the first of several that are difficult for us take in relation.  And yet it is the portion for this week, and we take note of it.

But what makes this especially ironic is that the haftarah for this week, for the Shabbat HaGadol (in fact the haftarah from which Shabbat HaGadol takes its name is the haftarah from Malachi, meaning “my angel” or “my messenger”), is rather extraordinary.  It talks about turning of the hearts of parents and children to each other on that great day, that day HaGadol, when parents and children turn their hearts to each other that in some way is going to be the onset of the messianic era, a world of peace, a time in which there is no suffering.

So one of course is pressed to try to understand what could possibly be a relationship between these portions.  And I would suggest that there is something about them.  One has to read a little bit later in Parashat Tzav, in which we find that Moses anoints his brother Aaron, pours oil upon him, lays his hand on him, and then of course when Aaron and his sons gather to prepare the animals, will lay their hands on these animals.

There is something about the laying of hands, touch, that becomes rather extraordinary in our tradition.  We do not take it for granted.  And the fact of the matter is that what we know as human beings is that no matter how extraordinary are the words we use, no matter how profound are the thoughts that are the source of creative energy, that when it comes to our relationships with other people, it is not the words but often the silence and it is not the songs, but always a touch, a gentle touch that creates a relationship.

It is the holding of hands, or the embrace, or a pat on the cheek or just laying your hand on someone else’s arm, or when you’re with somebody about whom you care so much and they’re in the hospital, or even just somebody with whom you would want to say prayers in the hospital, it is taking their hands and holding it.  That it is in those moments when we can take somebody within our grasp and touch them gently.  It is then that the best of who we are flows forth and it is then that relationships are created and expressed.

And why is it that therefore we take our children on Shabbat eve or our spouses or even our friends, and either put our hands on their head or hold them in our arms in moments of blessing.  Traditional as it is, it is up to parents to bless their children, but not from a distance, and not with a handshake, but as close as one can fashion oneself.

I think of this because some of us were in Israel and as wonderful as that country is every time that I go, and as extraordinary as it is to talk to others and to see history unfold and to dig in tunnels, perhaps the most profound recollection I have is when the families with whom we travel took their own children and children took their own siblings and their parents, and put their arms around each other and spoke meaningful for words.  And I guarantee you no matter how profound those words, what made the difference was that they held their family in their arms. Sometimes with hands on heads, sometimes just hand clasping hand, sometimes a family huddle or hug, that those are the moments in our lives that make a difference.

And so though we read about the sacrifices, it is this haftarah Malachi, that it is when parents and children’s hearts turn to each other, it is then that the Messiah will come, the world will be better, and I would hope that in the turning to each other, it is not with words, and perhaps not even in silence, but it is the extension of an arm, the holding of a hand, the laying on of hands on a head, it is the hug.

As one of three sons in my family, we knew that though it was not always considered proper, we knew that when we said goodbye to our dad, or when we said hello to our brother, was not with a handshake, but with a hug.

So I would pray that as we enter this week of Pesach, we have opportunities next week when we sit with our family to feel the touch and to know in some way that touch is explicit in our Torah and it is as well explicit in ourselves.  May it always be gentle and lovely.  Amen.

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