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Purification Before Performing Rituals

This week's Torah portion, Tetzaveh, includes the description of an unusual ritual. As part of the process of preparing Aaron and his sons' for their sacred duties at the sacrificial altar the Torah requires that blood be put on the "ridge of Aaron's right ear and on the ridges of his sons' ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet..." (Exodus 29:20). What was the purpose of this ritual? Does it retain any relevance for us today?

According to Nahum Sarna, a preeminent biblical scholar, the ceremony of putting blood on the right ear, thumb and big toe was for purifying Aaron and his sons so that they may perform the necessary animal sacrifices on behalf of the rest of the nation. To be sure, the sacrificial system upon which the ancient Israelite society was based is complicated to comprehend. Consequently, it is hard, if not impossible to fully understand the original significance or intent of this ritual act. However, Sarna proposes an insightful interpretation of the meaning of this ritual. He suggests that it symbolizes the idea that the priest is to "attune himself to the divine word and be responsive to it in deed and direction in life", in other words, devote his mind, body and soul to holy work.

Attuning ourselves to the divine word and then being responsive to it in deed and direction in life is as relevant to us today as it was to the priests in the ancient world. Too often we turn a deaf ear to the divine voice calling us, so to speak, to live a more holy life; fail to use our hands for holy, healing, constructive purposes; and wander aimlessly in no particular direction. Unfortunately, we do not have as visceral a ritual as our ancestors had to help us in this task.

We do however, have prayer, our main tool for striving to bring the mind, body and soul together. Prayer takes many forms so this need not refer to only the kind that happens in the synagogue. However, communal worship or prayer, when it is done in a meaningful way and is integrated into a person's life, is a great example of a ritualized act that has tremendous potential. This is not surprising since offerings of words in the form of prayers is what the earliest rabbis identified as the closest substitute for sacrifices after the Second Temple was destroyed.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah

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