This week's parsha
Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the Chabad.org website. We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given. For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website. If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the Chabad.org website.
Incarceration is a primary component of the United States’ penal code; in fact, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. On December 31, 2008, the incarceration rate was 754 inmates per 100,000 residents.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), “In 2008, over 7.3 million people were on probation, in jail, in prison, or on parole by the year’s end; that’s 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents, or 1 in every 31 adults.”
If only the prison system actually worked to rehabilitate prisoners. Alas, it fails miserably.
This week's Torah reading discusses the complex laws of ritual purity, tumah and tahara.
The Torah tells us that "every earthen vessel into which any [impure creature shall] fall ... shall be unclean."
There is an interesting distinction made in Jewish law between different types of utensils. If a source of impurity even comes within the inside space of a vessel which is made of earthenware, even if it doesn't touch the walls of the vessel, the vessel becomes impure. However, if it did not enter the vessel, even if it touched the walls from outside, the vessel remains pure.
With all other utensils, the opposite is the case: having a source of impurity placed within the space of a vessel does not make the vessel impure, whereas touching any part of the vessel does render it impure.
Why is this?
The Hebrew-Yiddish term mefunak is an adjective describing someone of overly delicate sensibilities or of too fastidious a character. I had a friend who used to put on gloves to take the rubbish out to the bin, and I am convinced that even now, as a father of two, he is probably yet to change a baby's nappy. He is an example of a mefunak.
Over the last few weeks we have detailed the different types of service performed in the Temple. Unlike a contemporary Synagogue service, which chiefly consists of private prayer interspersed with occasional tribal chanting and some stand up/sit down for exercise, the Temple rites were much more exciting. Animal sacrifice, incense burning, multicolored clothing, ritualized musical accompaniment and choral performance were all part of the daily spectacle.
After the sacrifices had been offered and burnt on the altar, the ashes were collected. The Cohen assigned to clear the accumulated ashes and transport them to the tip was commanded; and he shall take off his clothes (which had been worn while serving in the Temple) and put on other clothes, and remove the ashes outside the camp (Leviticus 6:4).
Surely this puts my mate's finicky-ness to shame. Forget changing gloves; the priest used to change his entire ensemble!
Ever been down in the bowels of a professional kitchen? The scenes of controlled panic and chaos bear no resemblance to the decorum which rules in the restaurant. Similarly, the grubby outfits and utilitarian work-wear that the bus boys and dishwashers are garbed in is far outshone by the formal attire that the waiters don. Makes sense; after all, the waiters are engaged in formal service, face to face with the patron, while the others' role, though vital, is really just preparing plates for use on the morrow.
The Cohen did not just change clothing out of fear of dirtying his clothes. Rather, when engaged in the actual service of G‑d in the Temple, he would dress up to the nines as an act of homage to the Deity in whose service he was engaged. When occupied with the more prosaic task of removing the ashes, vital though it may have been, he changed out of his formal attire and slipped into something more functional.
It's a Matter of Respect
However, unlike the distinction between the Maitre 'd and the lowly laborer, each with his own clearly delineated role, in G‑d's home the same Cohen fulfilled both functions.
In Judaism there is no disconnect between the 'upper class' and the 'honest battlers.' Not for us any petty caste systems where some dwell in the fields of academia and others labor, unseen and under-appreciated, at less appealing tasks. The same priest who offered the sacrifices would shortly thereafter embark on the far less glamorous, companion role.
Everyone enjoys the Seder; the glamour moment of Judaism. Resplendent in our finery and reclining in freedom we all thrill to participate. Less enjoyable, though equally vital, is helping to prepare the home in the weeks leading up to Passover. It is imperative to keep in mind, while scrubbing and scouring, that the same G‑d who commanded us to have a Seder is equally served by our exertions now.
When working for G‑d, it is important to "change your clothes." Go out to the public and put on a happy face. Demonstrate that the Judaism you love and live is functional and comfortable. Don't stay wrapped up in your cocoon of formality but relax and show that every single task G‑d sets us is simultaneously a privilege and a pleasure.