Turn It Again: Torah Wisdom for Today – Tzav

Turn It Again: Torah Wisdom for Today

In Pirkei Avot, a book of maxims in the Mishnah, an ancient rabbi, Ben Bag-Bag said about Torah study, Hafokh bah, vaHafokh vah, dkhola bah.” Turn it over and over, for everything is in it. For two thousand years, thats what Jews have done. Here is another turning.

Spiritual Resonance

In the ancient Tent of Meeting, five types of offerings were brought before God: burnt offerings (Olah), grain offerings (Minchah), peace offerings (Shelamim), sin offerings (Chatat), and guilt offerings (Asham). Our ancestors brought these sacrifices to address their needs. Sometimes they needed to make amends, assuage their feelings of guilt, connect with God, or express gratitude. We no longer bring material sacrifices, yet we share a common humanity. Our needs have not changed, only how we seek to fulfill them.

The thing with needs is that they often require us to focus on ourselves as we attempt to satisfy what we are lacking. We can lose sight of others in that effort, experience a sense of isolation when it seems that others don’t want to help us meet our needs, or try to satisfy our needs at the expense of others.

Yet our needs can also unite us, deepening our sense of shared humanity. The Tent of Meeting where our ancestors gathered with their offerings highlights their profound innate wisdom. As people lined up, waiting for their turn to appear before God and priest, they saw all of their friends and neighbors. Rich or poor, young or old, they were greeted with this swell of human yearning and desire. We are all broken, we are all imperfect, we are all grateful for something. This line of waiting itself became a pulsing place of healing and compassion. We are more alike than we are different.

Leviticus 6:20 concretely expresses this spiritual dynamic in a direct and startling manner. Regarding the sin offering, the Torah tells us “Anything that touches its flesh shall become holy; and if any of its blood is spattered upon a garment, you shall wash the bespattered part in the sacred precinct” (The Contemporary Torah, JPS, 2006).

The holiness of one person’s sin offering can migrate or jump onto another person’s offering. In his Mishneh Torah (Sacrificial Procedure 8:15), Maimonides elaborates on this concept:

“With regard to a sin-offering, [Leviticus 6:20] states: ‘Anything that will touch its meat will become sanctified,’ i.e., it will be of the same status. If it has been disqualified, anything that touches it is also disqualified. If it is kosher, anything that touches it should be eaten according to the laws that apply to it, with the same degree of holiness” (trans. by Eliyahu Touger, Moznaim Publishing).

Mental health therapists used to view transference and countertransference as types of pollution, in which a patient or therapist would project feelings or attitudes from past relationships onto the other, muddying understanding. While this sort of psychological pollution is possible, contemporary science has helped us better understand the concept of resonance, in which the calm presence of a therapist can help the patient better self-regulate, for example. Similarly, our knowledge of mirror neurons also demonstrates how human connection operates, sometimes over great distances. Often transference and countertransference are not only beneficial, but they allow us to better understand one another.

In religious terms, these mechanisms can best be labeled spiritual resonance. The connections between us run deep, in often under-appreciated ways, and our ancestors were deeply aware of these subtle energies. Our holiness is infectious; so too is our negativity.

The ancient Tent of Meeting is nothing but a memory, along with its pulsating line of human needs, each waiting to be satisfied before God and the community. What remains are lines in the supermarket, bank, DMV, and many other venues. Can we train ourselves to see in each of those lines how even our needs, which so often isolate us, are the fabric of our mutual humanity?