What Are We Searching For?

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Our great teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, pointed out that this week’s Parsha, Tzav, is always read prior to Chag HaPesach. Similarly, BaMidbar is always read before the holiday of Shavuot, VaEtchanan after Tisha BeAv and Nitzavim before Rosh HaShana.

The question arises; what is the relevance of these Torah portions to the holidays with which they are associated? The Rav posited that there are two themes in Tzav that are germane to Pesach. The first is that of the purging of vessels that have become “unclean.”

Judaism maintains that one cannot cook foods in kitchenware that have been used for non-Kosher products. Similarly, a pot in which dairy foods were cooked cannot be used to cook meat products and vice versa. This is because of the Halachik concept of absorption; which means that when subjected to heat, food products become embedded within the walls of the metal containers they are in and must be cleansed of that property before they can be used for the preparation of other dishes.

This law is very relevant to Passover, when one must keep a healthy distance from any ingredients that contain Chametz. Therefore, one may not cook foods intended for Passover in any vessels which have been used during the year–unless one is certain that only non-Chametz ingredients have been prepared in those pots and pans.

Is there any way that these Chametz vessels can be used for Passover? Today this question may be impractical since most Jewish families have separate cooking materials which are used only on Pesach. However, there are still some of our brethren who cannot afford even that luxury. The law of Kashering enables them to render all the cutlery and other needed vessels kosher for Passover use.

While the process of Kashering vessels is purely a Halachik one, I believe that we can find philosophical meaning with it as well. The concept of absorption has relevance to the moral spectrum of our lives. We are subjected to all of the ideas and values of the society we live in, and we should not underestimate the impact this has on our minds and souls.

To a significant extent, the culture of contemporary America (and Israel, as well) is rooted in a hedonistic outlook which views the pursuit of “pleasure” as the greatest good. The attitudes of the society toward crucial matters of morality such as same-sex marriage, abortion, gender transformation and so forth, are clearly contrary to the teachings of Torah. (Unless you are among those whose cleverness is so great that it enables them to reinterpret matters in such a way that everything you thought was prohibited actually is permitted–and even laudable. My we’ve come a long way.)

There is no question that the freedom we have been granted and the cultural assimilation we have experienced have had an effect on our religious attitudes. Most specifically, this can cause us to question many ideals of Torah and to doubt their veracity. It is therefore important to ascertain if any of the distorted ideas of the culture have been absorbed into our consciousness.

The Jews in Egypt did not only have to worry about cleansing their food processing equipment. Matters were much more serious than that. They had experienced severe religious assimilation and were guilty of worshipping the deities of Egypt.

According to the Rambam, 

“When the Jews extended their stay in Egypt, however, they learned from the Egyptians’ deeds and began worshiping the stars as they did, with the exception of the tribe of Levi, who clung to the Mitzvot of the Patriarchs–the tribe of Levi never served false gods. Within a short time the fundamental principle that Abraham had planted would have been uprooted, and the descendants of Jacob would have returned to the errors of the world and their crookedness. Because of God’s love for us, and to uphold the oath He made to Abraham, our Patriarch, He brought forth Moses, our teacher, the master of all prophets, and assigned him. Once Moses prophesied and Hashem chose Israel as His inheritance, He crowned them with commandments and informed them of the path to serve Him; and what would be the judgement for those who worship idols and for those who stray after it.” (Rambam Laws of Idolatry 1:3)

This corresponds to the teaching of the Rabbis that in Egypt the Jews descended to the forty-ninth level of Tumah (spiritual impurity) just before the redemption. However, Judaism does not believe that man is a hopeless creature who can’t purify himself. It is firmly rooted in the idea that with Torah study and the practice of Mitzvot and righteous deeds, even the worst sinner can become a genuine servant of Hashem.

Parshat Tzav reminds us that as we search diligently for any particles of Chametz we should also investigate whether any traces of false religious ideology have found their way into our Hashkafa (philosophical outlook). We should seek at this time to purge our premises and utensils of Chametz and our souls of corrupt ideologies. May we merit to serve Hashem according to the truth of His Torah.

Shabbat Shalom