I remember my first rock concert. I was in third grade and New Kids on the Block were huge, and somehow my mom got me tickets. I was beyond thrilled. The whole day I couldn’t wait to go to the concert with my friend Erin from across the street. We’d planned this amazing night. Sitting through the concert I was certain, from my third row in the first balcony seat, that Joey McIntyre was staring right at me. Erin and I couldn’t contain ourselves. We had tears, we screamed, jumped up and down, and nearly passed out. Years later I saw Joey on the street in LA, and it turned out he was just an ordinary person. He wore ordinary clothes and shopped at Target, just like the rest of us. From my perspective as an awed fan he was superstar Joey, but in reality, he was just a regular Joe.
Parshat Tzav, this week’s Torah portion, focuses on the rules and laws the Israelites must keep. Listed among the rules about sacrifices and the prohibition against eating meat and milk together are the rules about the priests. The priest was considered an important and special role among the Israelite people. Priests were to take care of the sacrifices and perform rituals that allowed the ordinary Israelites to come closer to God. In a certain sense, the priest was placed on a pedestal, especially with the exceptional clothing that made him easily identifiable.
It would appear that the text recognizes this, as it teaches in chapter 6, verse 3 that the first act that the kohen (priest) is to perform each morning is to put on ordinary clothes and remove the ashes of the previous night’s sacrifice. These ashes are then treated in a special way with reverence. Simchah Bunim, a 19th century commentator in Poland, interprets this verse as reminding us that this act ensures that the kohen never forgets his link to the ordinary people who spend their days in mundane pursuits. The ashen remains of the sacrifices are treated with reverence to teach us that what was holy yesterday must be treated with respect today as well.
There are two lessons here. Both the priest’s act of wearing ordinary clothes and the act of a sacrificial animal moving from ordinary to extraordinary teach us about remembering our roots and the value of each object of creation. While a person or object might seem to be the most magical and extraordinary creation at one moment, we need to remember that at our core, we are all created the same.
There is a Talmudic teaching that we should carry a saying in each of our pockets. In one pocket we should carry a piece of paper that reads “The whole world was created for me,” and on the other it says “I am but the dust of the earth.”
Looking back on the NKOTB concert, I spent so much time in awe of the performers that I don’t even remember what songs they played. Sometimes we get carried away by what we think is extraordinary, but the real transformation from ordinary to extraordinary comes from when we elevate ourselves and our relationships with others to a place of mutual reverence and love. And I think that’s something even a regular Joe can appreciate.
ללמוד To Learn: ללמד To Teach: לשמור To Keep: לעשות To Do: As we’ve now entered into the month of Nissan, we are in the midst of a deep spring cleaning of not only our physical spaces like our house for Pesach, but also of our souls as we prepare for Pesach. One tradition teaches that the cleaning for Pesach should be similar to Tashlich on Rosh HaShannah. We use this time to make apologies, let go of the chametz we’ve held on to for the last 6 months and move forward with a lighter heart. Consider using this week as we prepare for Pesach to take inventory of who you are, and who you’ve wronged and work towards making amends.