Shabbat HaGadol
Special selection: Malachi 3.4-24

This parasha is right before Pesach. It serves therefore as a means to cleanse our motives to do things and to deal with people. Leviticus started in its parasha of last week to teach about the role of the people who bring their offerings. We can see this as the principle of the mechanics of obeying commandments. This week we learn about the role of the kohanim, the priests, in handling the sacrifices. And there we can learn about the way we – in the present – need to do these holy deeds. Our motives.

It is one thing to know what to do. But it is quite another thing to see consequences of what we do to other people around us in the meantime. And commandments never stand alone. If you do one you need to them all. So for instance we cannot be involved in one mitzvah of Torah involving others and be angry with one or more of them. Or treat them rudely or impatiently. It is not just doing something, Torah requires priestly behavior.

The first task mentioned in the parasha is removing the ashes. The purpose is to keep the fire on the altar burning and to keep the altar clean. If our service to Hashem become negative routine, without the enthusiasm and the fire to keep us and others going, something substantial is lacking. Keep the fire burning, the text seems to hint. And keep your system clean. I think the two go hand in hand. If the way we deal with people stops being priestly this might be a symptom of the fire dwindling within us.

One of the priestly actions is the thanksgiving offering with loaves of bread. Half of the flour is used to bake thirty unleavened breads. And half is used to bake ten leavened breads. There is rabbinic commentary stating that the unleavened breads symbolize food. These breads are made with oil which is a sign of being whole. The leaven makes the flour grow in size. The leavened breads signify growth. This what priests are involved with: the well-being and growth of other people. And they are only able to do this because they themselves are well and are growing.

The leavened breads also suggest unrestrained freedom. Perfect freedom can only develop in an environment of knowing and honoring the borders of yourself and of others around you. Within such an environment there are rules of behavior which have to do with ethical standards.

It is like a cruise ship where the crew knows what to do in any situation and how to communicate to the passengers, in order for the passengers to enjoy freedom. Priests, which this parasha is teaching about, can be compared with the crew of a ship. They cannot just do as they please in their diligently observing Torah. They need to know how the people around them feel and respond and act accordingly. Let’s grow into more priestly behavior.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Lion S. Erwteman, Rosh Kehila of Beth Yeshua
Amsterdam, Holland