Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Tzav

Growing up, I always thought that “Surfing Movies” were about Jews. I think it was Cliff Robertson in the movie “Gidget.” He was the leader of the surfers – the “Big Kahuna.” As I grew up in religious school, I fantasized about the High Priest surfing on the Red Sea. Much to my chagrin as I got reinvolved in religion, I learned that it was the Sea of Reeds (unknown geography), and there is no surfing in the Torah. Is there a link to Jews? Well, the term Kahuna refers to a “Priest” in Hawaii. The term for “Priest” in the Torah is “Kohen.” Oddly, I have yet to find a linguistic link between the words.

At the risk of your thinking that I have lost it, I will share that I remember the “Head Surfer” always had the biggest surfboard and that he always carried it with ease. Unlike so many other stories where kings and leaders had people carry their stuff, it struck me that these surfing “Kahunas” always shlept all of their gear. I thought that they did so to show off their muscles.

I also remember the first time that I read through the Torah in Rabbinical School (confession – it was the first time through it). At the beginning of Leviticus, Chapter 6, we read that the Kohen is responsible for cleaning the ashes from the altar and carrying them out of the camp for proper disposal. When I got to this week’s portion, I was pulled back to my youth. Perhaps Hawaiians are a lost tribe?

In a moment of transparency, Torah reminds us to keep our ego in check. Even the Kohen must take out the trash. If one wanted to be the Kahuna in the movies, one had to bear the burden of carrying the extras that made him famous. However special one may be, no accolade comes without commensurate responsibilities. We want to achieve. We want to see the world through larger lenses. The higher the position, the greater the burden. We never become so important that the world around us doesn’t matter.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa (19th Century) once famously taught: Every person must have two pockets. And inside each pocket must be a little piece of paper. The paper inside the right pocket should read, “God created the whole world for me.” And the paper inside the left pocket should have the words, “I am only dust and ashes.” We must live in equilibrium. Whatever our role in life, we experience blessings and responsibilities when we engage in life.

So, we now experience a world of unaccountable leaders. Internationally, we are witnessing the invasion of a neighboring nation simply because the aggressor wanted to. For too long, nations jockeyed for position before standing firm against the aggressor. Some have yet to speak. Leaders in our government have betrayed trust by touting the value and genius of the Russian Dictator. We cannot heal a world unwilling to be held accountable for our behaviors.

The next holiday approaches. Passover is around the corner. One of the great themes that the holiday observance teaches is that there is no such thing as freedom without responsibility. Freed from Egypt, Israel no longer lived in servitude to Pharaoh. We did, however, accept the mantel of service to God through our care for each other. Soon, we will read the words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we want to experience blessings, we must also help others feel blessed. Anything short of honoring this mutual commitment to equity in sharing our world fails society.

We read from the Midrash, “Two mules are being led along a road by men who despise each other. Suddenly, one of the mules falls to the ground. The man saw the other’s mule crumbled beneath his load as his team passed by. He thinks, “The Torah reminds me, ‘If you see your enemy’s donkey fallen under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it (Exod. 23:5)?'”

What did he do? He turned back to help the other man reload his mule and then accompanied him on the way. While working together, they began to share thoughts on the best way to reload the donkey.

It came to pass that they had made peace between themselves. The mule driver (that had fallen) said to himself: “I cannot believe that he hates me; see how concerned he was when he saw that my mule and I were in distress.” They went into the inn to eat and drink together. Finally, they became trusting friends. There was no power play. The first driver had the advantage. It did not matter. He was still obligated to help. What a great idea! It worked, and hearts changed.

Shabbat Shalom.