Parshah Tzav: Becoming A Mensch

Tzav

This parsha continues describing the rituals which accompanied the offering of sacrifices. In particular, those bringing offerings to the mishkan/portable shrine were themselves required to be in a state of holiness. How did a person become holy? By immersing oneself in a mikvah/ritual bath, a man or woman could achieve a state of bodily holiness, but how were they to purify their mental selves, their very thoughts? This is a dilemma we still face today, living as we do in a world where pursuing the Almighty Dollar often stands in the way of attaining the Holy.

Chasidic literature abounds in tales of idealistic young yeshiva bochrim/scholars who strove to keep themselves free of the world’s taint. One such tyro visited the Nashelsker Rebbe’s study on a cold winter’s day. As the rebbe gazed out of his second-story window at the stable next door, the scholar described his life of self-imposed sacrifice—a trifle boastfully:

“I wear white garments every day,” the young man said, “to keep me physically pure.”

As the rebbe watched, a balagoola/teamster took off the heavy wagon-harness from his white horse, and set him free in the corral.

“I drink only fresh, pure water,” the scholar continued, “no intoxicating drinks of any kind.”

The weary, thirsty beast went over to its trough, and drank deeply of the ice-cold, snow-filled water.

“I wear nails protruding within my shoes,” said the scholar, “to cause me pain and keep me humble—and, every morning, I strip down and mortify my flesh by rolling in the snow.”

The horse pranced around the corral, tossing its head, and then rolled happily on its back in the snow.

As the young man went on describing his life of poverty, suffering, and scholarship, the Nashelsker raised his hand and silenced him.
“Come over here, yingele/young man,” the rebbe said, putting his arm around the scholar’s bony shoulders, “and look down there, in the corral. There you see a beast which, like you, wears only white. Like you, he drinks only cold water; like you, he has nails in his shoes—and I just saw him rolling in the snow. So tell me, young man—in what ways can you claim to be superior to a horse?”

God looks within all of us, and laughs to scorn those of us who fool ourselves, pretending to a life of holiness, only through outward signs. As Pesach, the festival of freedom, approaches, ask yourself: what personas do I wear in public—the devoted employee, the obedient child, the attentive spouse, the good Jew? Further: ask yourself, how can I make these guises real and honest? How can I better myself as an ethical Jew, a true mensch, within, and lose the outward show?

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