Shabbat Shalom Dear Readers Parshat Tzav 5776

March 25, 2016

Scent of Love By Freydoon Rassouli


The following is a revised version of an article that appeared on Globe Tribune.Info on April 15, 2011.

This week, Parshat Tzav, will be ushered in in New York City by candle lighting at 6:58 PM, 18 minutes before sunset in Brooklyn,NY. In other cities, even a short distance away, the time that Shabbat starts can vary. has a site where you can type in your zip code or look up your city to find the time of candle lighting. Other places on that site have articles that can be printed up and read on Shabbat while your computer is at rest. Additionally, has articles that can be printed up and looked at on Shabbat. has an article about Purim, and some background that does not appear in the literal text found in Hebrew scriptures. This book of Hebrew scripture, which does not contain G-d’s name, is a reminder that the Hand of the Almighty guides events that we mistakenly believe to be politics as usual. has an article about Josef Stalin, whose plan to deport and to kill Russia’s Jewish population was interrupted by his death that was appropriately timed for around Purim in 1953. The narrative of this historic event in 1953 is even more miraculous, and is recounted on

In most years, this would be the last Shabbat before Passover, the time when we remember going out of Egyptian slavery, an event that was not simply a happy ending, but the beginning of our quest to free ourselves of inner shackles and limitations. Because this year is a leap year, however, Purim and Passover occur a month later. On the Jewish calendar, an extra month is added seven times in 19 years, in order that the holidays occur in their normal season. Without a leap month, a regular Jewish year is around 352 days, which is why Jewish holidays fluctuate on the civil calendar.


As we approach Passover, we study the laws and traditions pertaining to it, as well as the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The themes of Passover are repeated throughout Jewish history. Throughout Jewish history, we have challenged the norms of our time and place. This started from the birth of the Jewish people, with Abraham’s adoption of monotheism, and continued in Egypt under the guidance of Moses.

It should be borne in mind that the Egyptians worshiped lambs as a deity. For Jews, to take a lamb on the 10th of Nisan before Passover and tether it until it could be slaughtered was itself pretty audacious. To tell the Egyptians that they would be slaughtering their sacred animal and that there would be a plague of the first-born was extremely provocative. Many Egyptian families were stricken with fear at the prospect of getting hit with a plague. For a minority that had absorbed many Egyptian attitudes and practices, slaughtering a lamb and flaunting its blood was a slave’s defiance of his master and a show of faith in the G-d who commanded such a display of fearlessness.

The action of the Jews in Egypt against the perceived sanctity of the Egyptian god would logically be considered extremely dangerous. Many Jews were afraid to participate in such a provocative demonstration of indifference to the Egyptian state religion. It took a major commitment of faith in G-d and in Moshe’s right to speak for Him to follow-up on a course of action that could logically have started a pogrom.

Despite the fact that the 10th of Nissan was never observed the same way again, it had a formative influence upon the Jewish people. A refusal to worship other gods and a willingness to speak up against idolatry are central to Jewish values. A willingness to derive one’s value system from the Torah rather than the latest philosophical trend is closely tied to this concept of having no other gods.

Additionally, it is important to stand up for values that are out of fashion rather than following prevailing fashions. A child who refuses to join in bullying an unpopular kid is upholding the idea of not “going with the flow”. The type of courage that is shown by people in the was shown in the former Soviet Union and in Nazi Germany who refused to denounce their neighbours. Resistance to fashions that might undermine modesty also enable one to develop the courage to be independent of destructive political and social fashions as well.

What kind of world would we live in if people lived in the spirit of the 10th of Nissan? The leaders of the Rwandan genocide would have been unable to incite pogroms against the Tutsi minority. The wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo would have been worked out through negotiation, without spilling rivers of blood first. Citizens and college students would adopt opinions about Israel based on facts instead of as a political fashion statement.

For most of human history, what one believed was an accident of geography. the west was Christian, Large parts of Africa and Asia were Muslim and in other parts of the world, other faiths prevailed. Only Jews maintained an indifference to the pull of geography in determining their faith. We now live in a time when every religion, every belief system can travel through Google and YouTube into every home. In some cases, faiths that were wiped out by purges come to life on a web site. People find that they do not have to hop on a plane to search for truth but can simply Google it. This is a blessing and a curse, since not only good ideas but idolatry and filth can also package themselves to ensnare the weak.

On the bright side, it is possible to transcend the limits placed by geography upon one’s spiritual vision. The internet can be a place to surrender to foolishness and filth, or it can be a place to redirect and recommit spiritually.

A faith can have the same effect on an individual that a constitution has on a country. A constitution prevents taxation without representation, imprisonment for one’s opinions and double jeopardy. Individuals, families and communities can likewise rule certain behavioral and moral choices as “unconstitutional”, thereby elevating their inner, individual and collective lives.

The name for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, which is tied to the idea of Metzarim, or “limitations”. The 10th of Nissan, Shabbat HaGadol focuses us upon the effect that societal pressure has upon our life’s journey. Are we going to “go with the flow” or are we going to be forthright in expressing our values, opinions and beliefs? Do we have the guts to go against the flow for a higher purpose?

The experience of the Egyptian exile was critically formative to the identity and character of the Jewish people. Of all the centuries of Egyptian bondage, the tenth of Nissan, which was one of our last days in Egypt continues to influence and shape us, right to the present day. The study and reflection that goes with this special Shabbat can and should deepen the continuing influence of this extraordinary day.

As an ancient nation, the Jewish people is shaped not only by its past, but by its future as well. In the fairly recent past, we have seen people like Stalin, Hitler and Mao take entire societies in the direction of evil. It is likewise possible for a great leader be a catalyst for good, for a leader to assist us in tapping into our inner strengths, to transform ourselves as individuals and as a society. May the day come speedily when this leader, the promised Moshiach come speedily. May the jarring dissonance of our age give way to a harmonious symphony of nations in which individuals and families can enjoy inner and outer peace.

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