Parsha Tzav: Jumping In

| parsha reflection |

This week’s parsha, or weekly Torah portion, is Tzav, which means “command.” In this parsha, G-d provides Moses with instructions, or commandments, to impart to Aaron and Aaron’s sons, who will officially become the kohanim, or priests, of the community after their ordination. These commandments include making sure that the altar’s flame is perpetually burning, and ensuring that only those who are ritually pure eat the holy meat of the offerings, and only at the right time and place. Finally, after teaching them all they need to know, Moses begins the process of ordaining Aaron and his sons as priests, and then leaves them in the Sanctuary for seven days to complete the ordination process and carry out their priestly duties.

A particularly popular image discussed in commentaries on Tzav is that of the eternal flame.  Yet the image that stood out in my mind was that of Aaron and his sons in the sanctuary. What was their experience like, in those seven days spent completing the ordination process, after receiving an overwhelming amount of information about how to be priests? Did they feel ready to act as leaders in their community after only seven days?  Why were they not given a longer time?

Throughout my life, I have often wished to have had more training, more support, and more information before starting a new job or experience. For example, after completing a summer crash course in teaching through the New York City Teaching Fellows, I spent much of my first year as a public high school teacher employing what felt like trial-and-error in an effort to figure out what in the world I needed to do to reach my students. But five years later, I realize that much of what I’ve learned I had to learn on the job: I had to make mistakes, forgive myself, and learn from those mistakes. In other words, though teachers do deserve much higher-quality training than they currently receive, would I ever have felt truly and completely ready to manage my own classroom, if I had not had a deadline for when I simply had to begin? Probably not.

Often the answer is just doing it, committing to doing one’s best, and seeing how it goes. This year, one of the major realizations I have had is that sometimes I limit myself by not taking enough risks, often because I tell myself I should be better at what I am currently doing before I consider moving to the next level. But there will always be room for improvement, and in order to know whether a new job or experience is one I would enjoy or be good at, I must get around to actually doing it.

One of my favorite quotations is “The difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline.” As we sit, let’s ask ourselves what our lives would be like if, like Aaron and his sons who only had seven days, we did not have the option of putting off a decision or experience that we have been thinking about, and we simply had to begin? What do we wish was different about our lives, and why do we continue to rationalize not making changes? My kavanah, or intention, for this week is to ask ourselves in which ways we can allow ourselves the compassionate flexibility, confidence, and motivation to grow and change, in order to help us move towards a greater sense of agency.