Parashat Tzav

From Guilt to Action

The sacrificial system teaches that coming nearer to God requires coming nearer to each other.

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Action and Advocacy

The word "sacrifice" in Hebrew is korban. Its root, k-r-v, denotes closeness and intimacy. Sacrifices, seen as a system of visceral interactions and sacred meals, didn't just bring worshippers closer to God, they brought the community members into contact with one another. Perhaps that is what this system of sacrifice, or "getting close," is trying to achieve: it insists that coming nearer to God means connecting more deeply with each other.   

In his poem, Abraham Joshua Heschel wants to confess his guilt: "I'm guilty a thousand times for your distress." He wrote these words in Yiddish as a student in pre-Holocaust Europe. Years later, teaching in America, Heschel moved from expressing feelings of personal guilt to a call for active response. 

He writes, "It is important to feel anxiety, it is sinful to wallow in despair. What we need is a total mobilization of the heart, intelligence, and wealth for the purpose of love and justice." 

Like the young Heschel, we can witness the myriad problems on our neighborhood streets, around our city blocks and throughout the world, and see only our guilt. The model of the ancient asham encourages us to transform those interior feelings into communal acts of love and justice. Isolated, we see our inadequacy and shame. Getting closer to one another, in community action and advocacy, we approach healing.

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Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman

Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman is the Rabbi Martin Ballonoff Memorial Rabbi-in-Residence at Berkeley Hillel.