On Passover we are commanded to see ourselves as the lead character in a drama that is unfolding in real time. As Mishnah Pesachim teaches: in every generation you are to see yourself as if you personally are going out of Egypt (10:5). Driving this point home, we are warned in the Haggadah via the example of the “wicked” child. The “wicked” child, we are told, is the one who asks, “What does this ritual mean to you?” To you and not to me, the Haggadah explains. This child takes himself out of the communal responsibility of the holiday, acting as if this story does not relate to him.
On Passover we admonish the “wicked” child for placing himself outside the experience. What he needs - what we all need - is a personal pathway in. We all require a way to read ourselves into our sacred stories.
In an era when the ancient temple no longer stands and we are no longer a religion centered around animal sacrifice, Parshat Tzav challenges us to find new ways to relate to these verses today. Within this challenge is the beauty of Torah and of Judaism.
“Holy holy holy is the Lord of hosts!” Chanting these words in the Kedushah, we stand, feet together, mimicking the angles on high. As we press up onto our toes, yearning for that Divine connection, we take on the posture of these pure, ethereal beings without physical characteristics that exist only in spirit.
Our conception of holiness often follows on this track, conjuring images of those things pure, simple, beyond the mundanity of the physical world. Our most sacred holiday is often considered to be Yom Kippur — a day on which we wear a plain white ceremonial robe known as a kittel — and which we prepare for by dunking in the mikvah, ritual bathing that requires us to peel away all outer layers (clothes, makeup, jewelry) so as to enter the waters as unadorned as the day we were born.
Sleep is the place of nightmares. It also the realm of dreams. According to the Talmud, dreams are one sixtieth of prophecy (Berachot 57b). Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, writes that through dreams the imaginative faculty is awakened, without which prophecy is impossible (3.36-8).
Hope is perhaps our most radical act. Hope is daring, risky, it exposes our dreams and desires and lays our heart bear, it calls us to see the world, our lives, as they are, to question how we got here, and yet through the pain, and disappointment, to continue to feel and to imagine.